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Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Commentary: 'Bullying' under the Friday night lights

The website for the government's anti-bullying campaign, stopbullying.gov, defines bullying as, "unwanted aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose."

Merriam's defines the term (to bully) as "to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants." Roget's synonyms include, (to) persecute, oppress, tyrannize, browbeat, harass, torment, intimidate, strong-arm, dominate, dragoon, goad, bulldoze, and railroad.

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A week-and-a-half ago, after watching her son's high school football team lose a game by a score of 91-0 under Friday night lights, a parent in Texas filed a formal bullying complaint against the winning team's coach with the affiliated school district; citing, "[U]nsportsmanlike conduct from 7:30-10:00." The complaint has since been investigated, as is required of all such formal bullying complaints pursuant to the school district's policies; and, found to be wholly lacking in merit (and void of common sense).

The winning team's coach played his starters for only twenty-one plays; ran a total of only 10 pass plays; played his second- and third-teamers for most of the game; instructed his kick-returner to fair-catch every punt in the second half; and, did everything but take a knee on each play after taking a 40-point lead. A running clock was instituted in the third quarter. The winning team came into the game ranked first in the state of Texas; winning four of their previous games by an average of 77 points. The losing team entered the game with an 0-6 record, and dressed only 30 players for the game.

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The losing team's coach did not take issue with the winning team's coach's actions, or with those of the winning team's players; commenting that the athletes played hard and did not "talk [trash] at all."

To borrow a quote from a seminal Supreme Court case on the topic of obscenity (pun most-certainly intended), Justice Potter Stewart famously stated that, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But, I know it when I see it."

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I don't know that the Friday night lights-styled bullying complaint filed in Aledo, Texas rises to the level of obscenity, insofar as I don't believe that it goes so far as to "corrupt the public morals." However, had the complaint been given any merit, or (had) action been taken against the winning team's coach, such a decision would certainly have set poor precedent; triggering a slippery slope; further-eroding the "public morals."

And, yes, by that I'm arguing that the filing of - and to have given merit to - such a quasi-obscene complaint was against the overall and better public interest.

Karl Marx famously wrote that history repeats itself, "[the] first as tragedy, then as farce." In this instance, the filing of a formal complaint against a coach who, based on all accounts other than that of the filing party-parent, did everything he could, short of sending the wrong message to his team, and taking away the opportunity for hard-earned playing time from second- and third-string players who otherwise do not see the field, to play hard, and/but to win with class, is or would have been the "tragedy." The "farce" will come when another parent, taking a page from this over-protective parent's proverbial playbook, files a similar complaint against a coach for "bullying" his or her child by or because the coach cuts his or her son from a team, thereby "excluding him or her from a group on purpose."

The sad truth is that such suits have already been brought by parents under different legal theories; including one suit claiming a violation of a kid's constitutional right because he was cut from a high school team. Facts really can be stranger than farcical fiction. But, the truth is that, while bullying is a serious issue, the filing of the formal bullying complaint in this instance is at least quasi-obscene insofar as it tends to erode the public morals by its indecency; insofar as indecency is defined as "not conforming with generally accepted standards of behavior or propriety."

In (legal) theory, the complaint may have failed on its face because bullying is defined as being "among school-aged children." What if the parent had filed complaints against the student-athletes on the winning team; filing fifty-six individual counts of bullying? That could be a slippery slope straight to sports-based bullying tragedy and farce.

Matt Laczkowski's sports column runs every Monday. Reach him at

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