Greeson: Outrage at Ooltewah now calls for action

Greeson: Outrage at Ooltewah now calls for action

January 5th, 2016 by Jay Greeson in Opinion Columns

Ooltewah High School is photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, near Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Jay Greeson

Jay Greeson

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The outrage may never subside. Nor should it.

The ramifications of the aggravated rape charges against three Ooltewah High School basketball players in connection with an assault against a 15-year-old teammate continue to resonate, from more than 100 former Ooltewah graduates asking for independent investigations to special Board of Education meetings.

As they should.

The collective community support, evidenced by an online fund-raising account at gofundme.com/b2gdhe7g totaling about $30,000 in a little more than a week — is not enough.

It's on each of us to take every measure to ensure this does not happen again.

Let's start with the Board of Education. You have been over the top in your verbal outrage. Well, act on it. Demand transparency in the investigation. Demand explanations from Ooltewah administrators, and encourage swift and immediate action on those involved.

Know this, school board members: You have an outraged public that wants answers, and as important as those answers are, the public wants to know what you plan to do to take every step to try to prevent this from happening again.

Here's an idea: Start by instituting a zero-tolerance hazing policy. Not next year or next month. Today.

Whether it's high school sports or band camp or the chemistry club, a first offense means you're banned from every extracurricular activity in all Hamilton County Schools. No transfers, no exceptions, no second chances.

To be clear, however, this Ooltewah incident is far worse than hazing — this was a violent, hateful, sadistic assault — but it started under hazing's hazy premise of dictating a locker-room hierarchy.

To peg this on the locker room or our culture's sports craze, though, is at best a stretch and at worst a misguided witch hunt that forgets all of the good that can come from high school sports.

There are tens of millions of current and former high school athletes who have never been violated with a pool cue. There are millions of examples in prep athletics across the country of sportsmanship and kindness and the best of what our young people can be.

Yes, this is a glimpse of the worst, but measuring any group by its absolute worst can never be a place we as a society should be willing to accept.

Sports, at its core and especially on the high school level, offer life lessons that include dealing with winning and losing, the payoff and value of hard work and preparation, and the essence of teamwork.

Certainly, this tragedy shakes all of us and prompts questions about the priorities of sports in general, but we cannot let these questions diminish the values and lessons sports have to offer.

Should the program have cancelled the rest of that tournament, pulled out of the Best of Preps tournament or even cancelled the rest of the season? Yes, in retrospect, the program does not deserve to compete or represent a collection of students and a community.

But let's be real clear. If we are going to second-guess the misjudgments made in this nightmare, canceling games is far down the list when the physical and mental well-being of a child has been ravaged.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com. His "Right to the Point" column runs on A2 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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