Topic: Sports & Entertainment

When a Bully Runs Amuck: the Case of the South County Raptors

The application of timely initiative, responsibility and courage often can foil the unethical conduct of others. All too frequently, however, those in a position to stop such attempts decide to use a variety of time-tested excuses and rationalizations to avoid an unpleasant confrontation, thus permitting injustice and harm to third parties through their inaction.

This is what happened recently in Fairfax County in Virginia. An unprincipled bully named Dan Hinkle abused his position as commissioner of the South County Youth Association, and fired the coaches of his son’s team after it won a game that put it into the league play-offs. It seems that before the season began, Hinkle sent an e-mail to the coaches of the South County Raptors, a team made up of boys between the ages of twelve and fourteen, making it clear that he was not going to perform his job, shall we say, in an unbiased fashion.

“Scott does not sit out on defense — ever,” Hinkle wrote the head coach, James Owens. “He goes in and stays in. That includes all practices, scrimmages and games. This entire league exists so he can play defense on the best team in his weight class. . . . He is my son, I own the league, and he plays every snap on defense.”

Hinkle didn’t “own” the South County Youth Association, but he certainly was its Number #1 benefactor. He had laid down the cash to fund all the 14 teams in the league, which is one of 23 “clubs” that make up the Fairfax County Youth Football League. This cost him, he says, about $150,000…a wonderful community gift to youth football if it didn’t have strings attached. Like many donors, however, Hinkle decided that his largess entitled him to interfere with the objectives and integrity of the program he was supporting. And as too often occurs, those receiving the benefits of his cash were unwilling to give them up for something as ephemeral as “principle.”

Confronted with this blatant abuse of power and position, Owens had an obligation to alert the league and the parents of his players, refuse to agree to Hinkle’s demands, and resign his position if he refused to retract them. Thus he shares responsibility for what occurred with the assistance of his own unethical conduct: his failure to communicate candidly to those who trusted him, and his willingness to participate in Hinkle’s unethical plans.

So Owens didn’t do anything to stop Hinkle. When the final game of the season arrived as a must-win contest to gain a play-off spot, Owens and his assistant determined that the team would have a better chance of winning with Scott Hinkle on the offensive line than playing defense. When Hinkle Sr. called Owens after the game (he had been forced to miss it), Owens said that he asked not if the team won, but whether Scott had played defense as his pre-season e-mail had dictated. Owens told the Washington Post, “I said, ‘Your son played offense. He played well and we won the game and we’re going to the playoffs.’ He said, ‘You’re fired!'”

The Raptors players voted that they did not want to play under the new coaches Hinkle offered to hire (presumably after the new coaches agreed to have electrodes surgically implanted in their skulls so Hinkle could control their every tactical move). Now their season has ended prematurely, and the officials of the Fairfax County Youth Football League are taking action: they are wringing their hands and muttering about how unfair it all is. They claim there was nothing the league can do, because a commissioner is empowered to fire coaches. League Chairman Mark Meana said that the executive board of the league tried to get Hinkle to change his mind but he would not. He said the league will “investigate” the firings.

Boy…that is sure to be comforting to the 19 members of the Raptors who have been cheated out of their chance to play in the championship game by a de facto alliance of the clueless, the ethics-less and the gutless!

What, the Scoreboard asks, needs to be investigated? Two coaches were fired for doing exactly what coaches are supposed to do: play a football game for the benefit of the team, not according to the desires of one team member’s father. The league should have dismissed Commissioner Hinkle on the spot and re-instated the coaches, rather than sit around bemoaning the fact that what he did was not explicitly prohibited by the rules. In fact, they probably had a fiduciary and contractual duty to do so. Each parent pays $160 to enter their son in the league, and Hinkle’s conduct cheated every one of them. Given that he appears to be running hard for the title of “Biggest Jerk of 2006,” Hinkle would probably sue them, but that’s no excuse for inaction. The man is a bully, and bullies have to be confronted until they stop bullying. Those who refuse to confront them aide and abet their unethical objectives.

The rules argument in a case like this is disingenuous, merely a transparent excuse for chicken-hearted cowardice. If league rules had neglected to explicitly prohibit naked racism and bigotry, and Coach Owens was fired because Hinkle discovered he was Jewish, or black, or gay, or a Democrat, would the league just shrug and say, “Gee, that’s awful, but there’s nothing we can do”? What if Hinkle fired the coaches because they refused to bench the son of a business rival that Hinkle wanted to annoy? Would that be outrageous enough to rouse league officials from their torpor? Would anything? The Scoreboard has real doubts about this. Without Hinkle’s $150,000, there would be no South County Youth Association this year and can be no South County Youth Association next year. It certainly looks like the integrity of the Fairfax County Youth Football League has a price, and Dan Hinkle paid it

Hinkle’s conduct epitomizes that of the self-centered, unethical individual, unconcerned with the effects of his actions on others, immune to the demands of fairness and willing to use his money and power to get his way. But he couldn’t have done such damage without the less egregious but still unethical conduct of the coaches, who did not oppose his plan or reveal it immediately to those who had a right to be informed. He couldn’t have done it without the passive cooperation of the league, which sold its soul, violated its duty of responsibility and looked for ways to remain inert rather than moving boldly to put Hinkle in his place, and the Raptors in theirs: the play-offs.

Many unethical acts require assistance from supposedly good and ethical people who think that if they do nothing, they can’t be doing wrong. Unfortunately for 19 young football players, there were plenty of such people around to allow Dan Hinkle to ruin the season for the South County Raptors.

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