SALT LAKE CITY — I was standing in the dark with my brother, waiting for our ride home after basketball tryouts during my eighth-grade year. We had both been cut from our junior high teams.
As a light snow began, the coach passed on the way to his car and sarcastically said, “Looks like the Rock boys got the ax tonight.”
I said nothing, but what I should have said was, “Not a problem. I’m suing your pants off.”
Back then, getting cut from a team was a “growing experience.” Turns out it’s grounds for litigation, too.
In New Jersey, Ervin Mears Jr. has filed a lawsuit seeking $40 million and two varsity letters and championship jackets, after his son Mawusimensah was cut from the school track team. In 2012, an Arkansas woman sued her son’s school for cutting him from the varsity basketball team, saying he was shortchanged in the selection process and deprived of his right to a complete education.
For buttinksky parents who meddle in their kids’ affairs — whether it’s drama, dance, cheer, choir, academics or sports — this is good news. The door is wide open. It’s only a matter of time before someone sues over a position assignment. It won’t just be that your son didn’t make the team, but whether he was named the starting quarterback.
If the coach says, “Kid, I’m sorry but I’m going with Ethan as my starter,” the student can reply, “Tell it to the judge.”
The aforementioned cases are symptomatic of two things. First, a litigious society. Any time you don’t get your way, it’s actionable. If you lose an election, what do you do? Demand a recount and fight over absentee ballots or dangling chads. If that fails, sue.
Second, we’re in an all-winners world. There are now millions of kids who know that however awful their performance, however indifferent their attendance or work ethic, they will get an award. (By the way, why didn’t David Hasselhoff ever get a Grammy?)
In the New Jersey track case, the coach, athletic director, principal, superintendent and school board were named in the suit. The elder Mears says his son was undefeated in three categories in junior high school, but later clashed with the coach over which races he should run.
The school claims there were numerous unexcused absences from practice, but the Mearses say a death in the family and a leg injury kept him from participating. The father also claims the environment was abusive. If so, I feel sorry for the family. But it doesn’t explain why he was unable or unwilling to get permission to skip.
In the Arkansas basketball case, the mother of a then-freshman player sued the school, district and state last year after her son was replaced. He was reportedly on the squad for two months, having passed two tryouts, but was removed when members of the football team became available.
Unfair as that may be, the lawsuit claimed the boy had a constitutional right to compete in school sports. An excerpt from the suit, published in Arkansasmatters.com, said "the deprivation of the right to a full and complete education which includes competition in sports and consequently athletic scholarships impairs John Doe of a property right guaranteed under both the U.S. and State Constitutions."
It went on to say there was no organized appeals process for students who were cut.
Had I known all this in the eighth grade, I would have lawyered up.
Admittedly there are some mitigating circumstances. In the New Jersey case, there were allegations of bullying. In Arkansas, it was the lack of an appeals process.
As for the legal right to play on a team, I say sign me up or I’ll sue for age, height, weight and speed discrimination.
Then I’ll tell the coach to not even think about giving me the ax.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company