Sunday, November 11, 2007

Football team forfeits perfect season because of ineligible player; paper keeps name out of print

The Alabama high school football playoffs began last weekend without a team that enjoyed a perfect regular season. Two weeks ago, soon after a victory over Pell City (right, with quarterback Judd Edwards scoring) the Oxford High School team was declared ineligible. (Consolidated News Service photo by Bob Crisp)

Acting on an anonymous complaint, the Alabama High School Athletic Association ruled one of the team’s players ineligible, meaning that the Yellow Jackets had to forfeit seven of their 10 wins. That news warranted a special four-page section Oct. 30 in the local newspaper, The Anniston Star, but the coverage did not include the name of the ineligible player. Although the paper’s in-house media critic questioned the decision to omit the name, Editor Bob Davis said it was the right thing to do, especially when considering the student's age.

“We wanted to treat him with the respect of someone who is underage. It’s the same reason we withhold the names of minors — there shouldn’t be something that follows you forever,” Davis said. That was the key for his decision — the idea that forever linking this student to this incident would be unfair. Thanks to Internet search engines, it’s not far-fetched to imagine some future employer running across the student’s name and learning about the lost season. “We don’t want someone eight years from now saying, ‘You’re the guy that cost us a state championship,’ ” Davis said.

For more of this story, by Tim Wiseman of the Institute for Rural Jourmalism and Community Issues, click here.

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