Lessons learned from tense situation

April 3, 2014

There was what can only be described as a tense situation earlier this week at the office of the Jefferson Post.

A gentleman, whom identified himself as a parent of a local high school athlete, showed up and for several angry minutes verbally confronted our sports writer Nathan Ham about an opinion column he had written that appeared in the Friday, March 28th edition of the Post.

While I, unfortunately, wasn’t in the office during the encounter, the staffers here described the gentleman as “red faced and visibly angry…just plain mad.”

They also said they were frightened by his behavior and were even concerned the situation could have escalated into violence.

The gentleman was upset about the subject in the opinion piece; why some high school athletes participate in “travel team” sports instead of playing for their school’s team.

I read the opinion column prior to publication. From my perspective, he did everything required to offer his perspective on a subject on which most would consider him well informed to write about, and he did his research. Ham spoke to coaches and athletes, all who asked to remain nameless because of the potential for retribution, asking for their feedback on the topic.

Using that information, he offered his reasons for reaching his final conclusion; “When you dedicate yourself to a sport to the point where you want to play at the next level, you have to make some sacrifices. Abandoning your high school team does not seem like a sacrifice that a player should ever consider making.”

What’s important here is not the subject, or the conclusion. What’s important in this situation is that it is an opinion. It is Ham’s opinion and he has every right to it and is equally as important as the gentleman’s, who angrily confronted him Monday afternoon.

That gentleman had several avenues in which to disagree with Ham’s conclusion instead of resorting to a face-to-face confrontation. He could have written a letter, which we would have gladly published, or offered his public comments on the piece on either the Jefferson Post’s website, Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Did Ham’s opinion raise larger questions about the issue? Absolutely. There are sensitive, and more difficult, questions that could be asked. Could there be questions about the perception of the school’s coaching staff by parents and players? Could there be concerns about the potential for bullying by other players, which usually occurs outside the view of the adults? There could be issues about the playing schedules the schools use; travel teams usually play on weekends, schools during the week.

Each one of these, and I could identify several more, is a potential reason for a young athlete to forego playing for their school.

The opinions you find on our editorial pages, on our website, or occasionally on our sports page are not the absolute truth. No human is all knowing. We are all works in progress, endlessly being shaped by our experiences and surroundings.

I believe in the written word, because words matter. They offer form, definition and substance to the world around us. They demand thoughtful contemplation, perspective and interpretation from each of us.

I also believe in action based on the words you believe inspire you.

But actions have consequences. As an extreme example, if you choose to drink and drive, there are potentially life-altering consequences. However, if you write an opinion that getting drunk and getting behind the wheel is not such a bad thing, then the reader can make his or her own judgment about your view.

Moving forward, we at the Post will continue to offer our view on the great things about Ashe County and point out the occasional wart.

We welcome any and all feedback, just as long as it’s written down.

Cliff Clark

Content Manager or @cliffcclark