Through early January, reporters will be looking back at and following up on stories and topics that were the most popular with our readers in 2015, according to metrics on lohud.com. This column is part of that series.
Looking back, Corey Aronson knows it probably wasn’t the best idea to strip down to next to nothing and make a “Harlem Shake” video in the Palisades Mall locker room during a high school ice hockey practice with his teammates.
The video — which features one player smacking the buttocks of a teammate, and another sporting nothing but a carefully placed tube sock — forced Nyack/Tappan Zee to forfeit its playoff game, prematurely ending the careers of Aronson and his six fellow seniors.
Nearly three years later, Aronson maintains that he didn’t think the video warranted the suspension, but that the team should’ve known better.
“No one thought it would be that bad. We wouldn’t have posted it if we thought there was going to be negative responses,” he said, adding that there is a higher standard for athletes of any age. “I think that’s just what you take on, as an athlete. You have to know the line. It’s a responsibility.”
Whether it’s a professional, where celebrity becomes part of the package, or a high school student, where popularity is often associated, it’s no surprise that whenever an athlete or team is in hot water, it’s bound to make headlines.
It’s the reason why everyone chimed in with an opinion two weeks ago, when New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. lowered his head and targeted the helmet of Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman like a ram attacking an unsuspecting enemy.
It’s the reason why local readers were enthralled with finding out that Panas volleyball head coach Joe Felipe suspended nine of his players for the team’s season-opener in September after “not meeting team expectations.”
No other reason was given for the suspension, which resulted in the Panthers’ only regular-season loss of the year (Panas eventually finished second in the state).
Lakeland Central School District interim athletic director Daniel Belfi said members of the team violated no school rules and that the decision to suspend the players was Felipe’s call — as it should have been.
Whatever led to the team’s suspensions, it did not end up on news sites throughout the country. Nobody was harmed, it didn’t go viral on social media, and obviously it was not serious enough for Felipe to hand down a more severe punishment.
You can speculate, but the ambiguity of “not meeting team expectations” isn’t important — every coach has a different level of expectations for their players. My middle school basketball coach made us wear a dress shirt and tie on game days. If we didn’t comply, we didn’t play. That was the expectation.
Like it or not, when you join a team, you also sign up for a new set of rules — the coach’s.
There are a number of other local incidents that fall under the umbrella of high school athletes grabbing headlines in recent years — from the Mahopac-Mount Vernon basketball fiasco in 2014, to a Woodlands girls basketball player being removed from the school district last year — but it does bring up an all-encompassing and over-simplified question: “Why?”
Why are even high school student-athletes held to such a high standard that any alleged or confirmed wrongdoing ends up in the news? It’s not like these teenagers have million-dollar contracts or endorsement deals. Sports, for them, is a hobby, not an occupation. Why do people care so much when a student-athlete does something as opposed to a regular student?
The hope is that kids know better, but the reality is that they’re going to do things to make their parents upset and scratch their heads.
We’ve all done stupid stuff during our adolescence; that doesn’t always make it excusable by the “kids being kids” defense, but that also doesn’t mean some should be brought down by a heavier hammer just because they happen to be an athlete for the school. The punishment should fit the crime, without any kind of prejudice against the accused.
There’s a line that can’t be crossed, this we know to be true at any age, but the line is not always apparent.
“I think it’s hard to really say when it becomes too far,” said Aronson, who is now a junior at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “We were definitely, (people) were saying, ‘risqué,’ so that’s close to the line, but … if it wasn’t allowed to be posted online, then it’s probably too far.”
I guess the next over-simplified question becomes, “How far is too far?”
We don’t know that answer now, but we’ll probably have a better idea the next time a student-athlete from the area ends up grabbing headlines for something they did off the field of play.