In May of 2001, Ryan Brown, scheduled to speak at commencement exercises at Washington Community High School in Washington, Illinois, went to the microphone and spouted a loud “Ah Choo.”
Whereupon a group of his pals shouted “God Bless You,” thereby defying the ‘no praying’ order of a federal judge.
And so the culture wars continue.
Now comes Ronnie Hastie, a star running back for Tumwater High School in Washington State.
After a 25 yard touchdown run in the T-Birds 63-27 win over East Valley in the Division 2A semi final game, Hastie dropped to one knee and pointed to the sky. He was immediately, and literally, hit with a yellow flag, and his team was penalized fifteen yards for “celebrating.”
The National Federation of State High School Associations sent a "point of emphasis" memo to athletic directors across the country before the 2009 season reminding them of the need for good sportsmanship in games.
It called specific attention to federation rule 9-5-1, which reads, in part: "No player shall act in an unsportsmanlike manner once the officials assume authority for the contest."
Examples of inappropriate behavior, it said, included but were not limited to, "Baiting or taunting acts or words or insignia worn which engender ill will; Using profanity, insulting or vulgar language or gestures; or Any delayed, excessive or prolonged act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself."
College and high school athletic associations have cracked down on post touchdown celebrating in the wake of practices among NFL professionals which the powers that be have decreed to be excessive.
Many fans disagree. Some say that NFL is beginning to mean “No Fun League.”
Celebrating touchdowns, in fact, has become an art form in the NFL.
You can Google it and see the latest and the greatest by such outstanding celebratory performers as Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Joe Horn.
Admittedly, some of it is tasteless, if not downright vulgar.
But most people are not offended to see athletes rejoicing over their success. In fact emotional demonstration is very much part of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s part of the drama of sports.
I suppose nobody can quarrel with the effort of high school coaches and athletic associations to instill attitudes and behavior reflecting good sportsmanship in student athletes. After all, participation in team sports is part of the overall educational process.
But I have to say that I am troubled over the call on Ronnie Hastie.
From his perspective, it was a big surprise. He had executed the same prayerful posture every time he got into the end zone all season. The semi final game was the first time it had resulted in a yellow flag.
So the call is subjective. Some refs tolerate it, some don’t.
What gets my stomach in a knot is the idea that thanking God for athletic accomplishment can be viewed by anybody as an act of poor sportsmanship.
One of the suits back in the association office, trying to justify the call, told reporters that the reason for the rule and the call was to prevent delay of the game. He said that upon reaching the end zone, a player is obliged to immediately turn the ball over to the referee.
I saw Hastie’s genuflection on the video. It didn’t take more than a second. If fact, if the ref had reached for the ball instead of his flag, he would have had it in hand before the penalty marker hit the ground.
Unfortunately, the incident smacks of something much more ominous than cracking down on poor sportsmanship.
How much of the impetus to penalize Ronnie Hastie and others like him comes from the same culture war that shuts down prayer at high school commencements and the singing of Christmas carols in public schools?
Where will the ACLU stand if a team is penalized because a player makes the sign of the cross on the field?
It does make you wonder if the fellow refereeing the Tumwater game would have thrown the flag at a wide receiver named Muhammad something or other who prostrates himself toward Mecca in the end zone.
For let’s say, ninety seconds.
Delay of game?
Not hardly in this day and age.