Power and Popularity

May 16, 2014

We take no comfort when leaders of sports on other levels get embroiled in controversy; but we do try to learn from those situations.

For example, we watched very closely in 2012 how the National Collegiate Athletic Association responded fast and with force to the horrific sex abuse scandal at Penn State. The NCAA may have ignored its prescribed due process and exceeded its penalty authority, winning mostly praise from the public; but now the NCAA is mired in litigation over the legality of its swift and severe actions.

We are currently observing what could be a similar scenario for the National Basketball Association. Its commissioner moved quickly to impose a lifetime ban and other sanctions after racist public statements by an NBA team owner. While most people have praised the speed and severity of the commissioner’s actions, some people note that the recent racist remarks were not something new for this owner and the unprecedented penalties may be the subject of a lifetime of litigation.

The lesson of these situations for leaders in other places and on other levels is to be especially cautious about using power in popular ways. No matter how horrible the transgression, no matter how angry it makes you personally, follow the established rules of procedure and keep within the limits of your explicit authority.

I confess that this can be frustrating and that I have sometimes felt paralysis more than power when performing the role as MHSAA investigator and penalizer. But some of that frustration may be my own fault. If such frustrations are too common, we should be reworking the organization’s Constitution and rules, with the members’ agreement, to streamline process and strengthen penalties.

Significant steps in this direction have been occurring. For example, in May of 2013, the Representative Council adopted the athletic-related transfer rule; and on May 4, 2014, the Council increased the maximum penalty for undue influence from one year to four years for both students and adults.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.