A girls softball team from Virginia paid a steep price for a lesson about social media: After a victory, think twice about gloating over your opponent on their home turf — especially if the chosen method of gloating is posting a photo on social media of six teammates flipping the bird under the caption, “watch out host.”
The 12-to-14-year-olds who make up the Atlee junior league softball team from Mechanicsville, Va., were disqualified Saturday from the nationally televised championship game at the Junior League World Series in Kirkland, Wash., after one team member posted that photo on her Snapchat account before their game Friday. The team apologized Saturday, even asking for an investigation into the game, but it was too late to repair the damage the image had caused.
Little League spokesman Kevin Fountain called the post “inappropriate” in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, explaining that it violated the league’s “policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct.”
The disqualification didn’t sit well with the Atlee team manager, Scott Currie, who found out about the photo Friday evening after the team’s 1-0 win. Currie immediately reprimanded the players who were involved, before demanding they delete the post and apologize in person to their rivals.
“It’s a travesty for these girls,” Currie told the Times-Dispatch on Saturday. “Yes, they screwed up, but I don’t think the punishment fit the crime.”
The team asked for an investigation into the events leading up to the post in an apologetic statement that was given to WRIC.com:
“We are very sorry for the social media post resulting in the disqualification of our softball team contending for the 2017 world championship. Atlee Little League is an organization made up entirely of volunteers with a proven track record of advancing our standards of sportsmanship in youth sports. We are deeply disappointed this social media post did not reflect the core values of Little League International or Atlee Little League.
“We expect Little League International will take the time to fully investigate the matter, and we will comply with this investigation by providing all information about unpleasant interactions including the social media post and the time leading up to that event — not all of which were on the part of those of the Atlee softball team. We desire to protect all youth who are recipients of inappropriate behavior both on and off the field, as we take very seriously our charge to impart the value of good sportsmanship. It is important to remember the young women athletes involved in this unfortunate event are minors who are part of the fabric of this community that supported them and which they were honored to represent.
“Those involved feel very deeply this lapse in judgment, and wish your consideration for their privacy at this time. These young athletes are part of Atlee Little League. As all young athletes are trained to do, they will brush themselves off after a loss, and try again — after having learned a most valuable lesson.”
According to Atlee Coach Chris Mardigian, who spoke to RVA Sports, the post came in retaliation to “several incidents of harassment” perpetrated by some Kirkland team members that targeted the Atlee team. The Times-Dispatch adds that a player and coach from Kirkland’s team were ejected after being caught relaying Atlee’s signals from second base to Kirkland batters.
Making matters worse for Atlee, Kirkland was chosen to replace Atlee in Saturday’s championship game and lost, 7-1, to USA Central.
Little League’s decision to disqualify Atlee while promoting Kirkland irked many on social media, although most admitted the photo posted to Snapchat was inexcusable. Many also said it’s equally unfair to disqualify the whole Atlee team over the actions of six members.
“You don’t disqualify an ENTIRE team due to the posting of one child,” Sueann Taylor Ellis posted on RVA Sports’ Facebook page.
“I can understand disqualifying Atlee for the post … but to give Kirland [sic] the spot is ridiculous,” Jerry Broussard wrote. “The other team in the finals should just get the win outright. Bureaucracy at it’s [sic] finest.”
Others agreed with Little League’s decision, although they admitted it’s a “hard lesson” to learn.
“Adults/kids sooner or later need to understand that not everything should go on social media,” Michelle Turnbow Jenkins wrote. “[T]here is always someone watching!”
“I think we should all take a step back and look at the bigger picture,” Skip Horton added. “They need to think about there [sic] future colleges. This is exactly what coaches look at before the [sic] offer scholarship.”
There are dozens of cases in which social media has negatively affected a prospective student athlete’s future. In 2014, for example, a Penn State assistant coach (perhaps ironically) used Twitter to announce he “dropped another prospect” because of his social media presence.
“Actually glad I got to see the ‘real’ person before we offered him [a scholarship],” Herb Hand said.
While the Atlee player’s post and the six participants’ faces will likely exist online forever (although the post was deleted, it’s been screen-captured and shared online numerous times), the players will probably avoid any long-term damage. Not yet in high school, the children have plenty of time to rethink their online personas — and maybe more chances to play in tournament championships.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that the team posted the offensive photo before its game.