I wish some of you could have my job.
That’s not to say it’s better than anyone else’s, but in the sports world it provides a unique perspective. Covering high school sports takes me throughout the city and into the suburbs. One day I might be in Kenosha covering football. On another day during a different part of the year, I might be in West Bend checking out a baseball game.
During the winter, I get a close-up view of many of the area’s highest-profile prep athletes in any sport. Basketball is held in that high of a regard by people around here, and not just by the kids. It is the high school sport that incites the most passion and has the farthest reach across the state. And this isn’t strictly fandom, these people know the game and know the players.
You watch these players from the stands and they look and sometimes play like adults. When you get a chance to talk to them away from the limelight, however, you still see some of the baby in their faces and the goofiness that comes with being a teenager.
That is what I thought of last week when news spread of the taunts Port Washington students attending a basketball game directed at Nicolet’s Jalen Johnson. We won’t waste much time on that here other than to say it was an unacceptable display and it’s hard to believe the parent who helped print those copies didn’t stop to think that it wasn’t a good idea.
The moment, however, symbolized another issue that has arisen with prominent high school athletes: Some of us have become desensitized to the fact that these are kids and, whether it’s in the stands or in cyberspace, treat them like they’re much older.
These are the “fans” who love these kids when they’re seriously considering playing at Marquette or Wisconsin but make them enemy No. 1 if they decide to go elsewhere. These are the “fans” who say things about a kid’s intelligence that they’d have no way of really knowing about. These are the “fans” who have no problem speaking or tweeting ill of someone and then asking to take a picture later.
That’s why I wish some of you could be in my shoes and be reminded that these are kids. Not young adults. Kids.
Once a player, after a post-game interview, asked “How’d I do?” looking for a critique of how he handled the questions. Another asked for permission to talk about the impact him family had on his development, as if I wouldn’t allow it. You don’t get that kind of interaction from a college or pro player.
As you should expect, these kids are far from polished.
On the court they’re all-state, but some of them can be completely intimidated by a tape recorder. Some of them exude confidence on the floor but are really uncomfortable with the attention that comes with their athletic success. Others might be able to handle that part of being a standout athlete but are dealing with insecurities elsewhere.
They’re still trying to figure out life.
So what is the lesson here?
First, don’t say or do something in the stands or on the internet that you wouldn’t say to the person face to face. Treat them the way you’d want someone to treat your child or your friend rather than someone only here to entertain you.
Let’s not try to tear them down.
Mark Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at MarkStewartMJS.