Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Another Little League Ethics Mess

Somehow the Scoreboard missed a Little League ethics story, one that made its way onto the pages of Sports Illustrated as well as into various blogger rants. The ethical verdict on the situation is spectacularly simple, which is what makes the story both intriguing and disturbing. Is ethical reasoning really so difficult?

Apparently it is, at least for Little League officials in Freetown, Massachusetts. Jodi Hooper, the mother of a seven-year old Little League player, missed her shift as a volunteer at the concessions stand when she couldn’t get time off from work that night. Swiftly enforcing terms in the Freetown Little League’s agreement signed by each parent, officials benched and suspended her son for two games.

Hooper took the story to the local media, where it quickly went national. The head of the Freetown Youth Athletic Association, Dave Brouillette, explained that concession stand revenues are necessary to fund the league’s programs, and this was how the association decide it could hold the parents to their obligations. “Without the money from the concession stand, the parents would be asked to pay a lot more than the $50 to $115 they already pay to have their kids play,” he told reporters.

Defenders of the League pointed out that Hooper had knowingly signed a contract that called for her to serve one night at the concession stand or face having her child suspended. “But I thought I would be given some consideration because I had to go to work,” she said. “And I didn’t have a list of people I could have called to fill in for me.” Brouillette has been understanding in his public statements, and says, “She’s right: We are punishing a kid for a parent’s mistake, but I don’t know of any other way we can do it.”

Really? You really don’t know any other way to hold adults to their obligations besides punishing their children? Yes, your way is better than, say, torturing their aged parents or killing their pets; preferable to burning their homes down, certainly, or breaking their legs. But if punishing a seven-year old child for something absolutely beyond his control is the best solution you can muster, then you, sir (I have always wanted to do a Keith Olberman imitation) are not just unethical; you’re an unethical dolt. Without giving it the thought it takes to floss my teeth, I would suggest:

1. Requiring a parent to do two shifts for every one she misses.

2. Allowing parents with job difficulties to pay a higher fee rather than volunteer.

3. Always have a back-up volunteer for emergencies.

4. Oh yeah…be fair, empathetic flexible and kind.

Punishing a seven-year old in this manner cannot be defended under any rational or ethical principle. The League’s defenders, who have attacked Mrs. Hooper for starting a public campaign and for not acceding to (stupid and cruel) rules she agreed to follow miss the point: her son didn’t do anything wrong, and her son is the one being hurt. Let’s stipulate: Mom defaulted on her obligations. Ethical response: find a way to make Mom make up for her mistake. Unethical, brain-dead response: punish the seven-year-old kid. This isn’t a difficult choice, though Brouillette’s statements indicate that to him it’s on par with “The Lady or the Tiger.” “Right or wrong, we use kids as collateral,” he told one reporter.

Uh, Dave?

It’s wrong. Using children as collateral is wrong.

Glad we could clear that up for you.


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