Sunday, August 06, 2017

COMMENTARY: How I Will Handle The Atlee Aftermath

(The following is an editorial by RVA Sports Network's Rob Witham concerning the situation involving the Atlee Junior Softball All-Stars that caused their disqualification from the World Series this weekend....)


Saturday August 5th, 2017 was the most difficult day of reporting I've experienced in 32 years of media. By late evening, I purposefully closed my laptop and phone, and walked away for a couple of hours so that I, as a person, could decompress from, not as much the news of the day involving the disqualification of the Atlee Junior Softball All-Stars from the World Series due to the now infamous Snapchat post, but from the myriad of reaction to it.

The reaction continues, from all directions, hot and heavy today, Sunday, just as these girls will return to what should be their safe haven. Home. 

Before I continue, readers should understand that there is, and always will be, a clear line between what I do as a reporter, and what I do as a private citizen. 

So, going forward, this is how the RVA Sports Network will handle this situation:

1) We will continue to follow, and report, the story and any other possible developments, if there are any. The outcome of the tournament will not be changing. Poland, Ohio won the World Series over Kirkland, Washington on Saturday and that will go into the record books. But if there are any follow-up stories or details that should be reported, we will endeavor to do so.

2) We will continue to treat this story the same way we do with all stories about student-athletes under the age of 18. We will never post the infamous picture in question. While TV stations and, now, national newspaper outlets, are posting it while blurring out faces and the inexcusable gesture, we have chosen not to post it at all. We've received complaints about it being "the center of the story", and, thus, we should post, and while that is true, a description of the picture suffices. 

Now, we're not naive. We know the picture has gone viral on phones and texts and via other channels over the past 24 hours. What private citizens do is their business. RVA Sports Network has never been about attempting to gain web hits at the expense of 12 to 14 year old children or any teenage student athlete. I can guarantee you that is part of the motivation of some national media to run with the story. We are in an age where long-time reputable media members have, at the bottom of their web pages, "click bait" with ridiculous headlines in the hopes of you clicking on it to better their page results so they can attract more advertisers. You don't see that here.

3) We are here to celebrate the achievements of our area's student-athletes, and in the case of this site, @hanoversports on Twitter, and our Facebook page, we also do our dead level best to report the truth. And sometimes the truth is very tough. This was the case on Saturday.


Now, let me explain to you how I will handle this situation as a person, taking off my media hat for a moment.

1) I choose to celebrate the on-field accomplishments of the Atlee Junior Softball All-Stars. They were clearly the best team at the World Series, and likely would have been bringing a championship trophy home today were it not for such poor judgment off the field. Their work on the field should be applauded.

2) I choose to use this as a teachable moment. I understand the perils of social media, and understand the platform I have in Hanover County that, perhaps, no other person has, on the very social media that is at the heart of this story. As we have spotlighted important issues over the past year from teenage depression and suicide (which is on the rise) to equality in athletic opportunity in this, the 45th anniversary year of Title IX legislation, we will also spotlight how to use social media in today's rapidly-changing world.

3) After talking long and hard with friends and family privately Saturday night, I spent hours trying to place myself as the parent of a player involved in the photograph. I've decided that there was no punishment I could give my child in this situation that could be any more effective or long-lasting than the one they've already received. 

When they turn on the TV or their smartphone to watch the World Series in October, or next year's College Softball World Series, they'll remember. When they step on the field in high school, they'll remember. I don't need to go further to prove my point.

The members of this team will have to deal with this forever. So I choose to support these young ladies, pray that they have and will continue to learn from this error so that they can turn it, both personally and in other ways, into a positive so that weeks, months, or years from now, they can help others in the position where they were Friday not make the same mistake. I'm praying this incident makes them stronger.

I'm very, very ready, as a person, to begin helping the process of letting these young ladies put this ordeal behind them, letting them grow from it, and letting them move on to the next adventures of their lives.

I'll support them. Fully

Did they let us down with a terrible lapse of judgment? Yes.

Will we suffer like they are because a trophy didn't come home to Atlee Little League? Absolutely not

They need us to move forward as a county, so they can, too. 

So let's get started.

Rob Witham
RVA Sports Network (@hanoversports)


NOTE: Have comments? They can be left here (and are monitored) or you can contact Rob directly at  


Brenda Sanders said...

I agree with everything you wrote about in your commentary and I have all of the players, coaches and parents, and their extended families in my prayers. Thank you for providing to our community and I am still very proud of the Atlee Junior Girls softball team for making it all the way to the World Series. Sincerely, Brenda Sanders

Unknown said...

Having watched the Final game yesterday I truly believe they would have won if they had played that game. It's a hard lesson to learn, and even harder to learn it so publicly. I agree with your perspective and remain proud of these girls for making it to the World Series and playing so well there.

Unknown said...

Your commentary is right on target. These kids, hopefully, have learned a very valuable lesson that dignity, honor, respect, decency and manners matter above all else. Even though I do not know a single payer on the team, I wish them the best. I hope that they can heal quickly as kids do and that they remember the talent they had and the games played as well as the opportunity lost on the field due to the action off of it. Let's celebrate their achievement and be aware of the mistake

Kasey said...

This was done in the dugout, so you're argument of off field is invalid. They were in uniform therefore they were representatives of an international organization they are held accountable to that organizations standard. Stop trying to sugar coat this.

Anonymous said...

We are not teaching our kids respect, manners, honor,or dignity anymore.
All of them should be off the team, and then maybe they will think before they give give mude jesters.

Anonymous said...

Thats the problem with all these spoiled entitled kids today. They not only should have been pulled from championship but they should be off the team. Talent over stupidity isnt a lesson they will learn. All they will see is how they get away with acting the way they did. Give them a real consequence for once. They need to be held accountable for their actions. They were in uniform, what a way to embarrass the program. They arent sorry and wont ever feel bad......

Anonymous said...

Let he who is without sin cast the 1st stone.

Unknown said...

Whoa! Such generalizations about "kids" in general and "spoiled entitled kids today" "they aren't sorry and won't ever feel bad." Really? You know this? How?
How great it must feel to have never made a bad decision. How do you figure they "got away" with anything?
I guess a generalization could be made against "people like you"...if only you hadn't posted anonymously. Hmmm.
As a parent you can bet that I would have come down hard on my child for making such a poor decision but, to have these kids put on blast from others who know NOTHING about their character is truly sad. No doubt these KIDS are learning tough lessons and guess what, they'll continue to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them which will in turn shape them into adults with a greater understanding of consequences... grace should be shown not harsh generalizations thrown out about "kids these days"!
I just spent a week with a group of teens the same age as these girls on a Mission Trip. Your stereotype of "these kids" truly misses the mark. No one is perfect... may I offer you a mirror?
-Kellie Harris

Unknown said...

Why consider their behavior a "teachable moment?" That's giving them the benefit of the doubt. If they are indeed "young ladies" as you refer to them, should they not have displayed such juvenile behavior?

Anonymous said...

More like we are not setting an example for our kids. Children can spot hypocrites 100 miles away....

"We are not teaching our kids respect, manners, honor,or dignity anymore."

Reno osborne said...

In the long term I would like to believe this is a life lesson learned. I don't believe there are consequences down the road that will hurt their lives. Hopefully they will grow and this episode will be forgotten by most all except for the ones involved and they will use this in life decisions. Most all of us have done stupid somewhere. In the grand scheme of life,I belive all of these girls will be better people.

Unknown said...

I feel very sorry for the girls on this team who did nothing wrong and yet were punished for their teammates actions. This is the same as punishing an entire class for the actions of a few unruly students.

Anonymous said...

When the season ends, all the players are off the team.

robwitham said...

To Kasey:

Your remark of the incident not being off the field is correct. My use of the term "off the field" referred to what they did not taking place on the field of play or during a game. But frankly, had they done it in a hotel room or restaurant not in uniform, it would have been just as inexcusable.

Vicki Gabello said...

As a part of the Atlee LL community and parent this unfortunate event should not overshadow the many positive ways our children grow & learn from team sports. These girls, families and coaches all need our support not scorn. Atlee strong!

Anonymous said...

I started off being mad at this team. They had something that other athletes would to be in there shoes.people are sayianttg poor girls don't deserve this negative attention, we'll they must wanted it because they posted beating on social media, yes the other team cheated and got ejected from the game but they beat the team, so that didn't matter in the out come of the winning that put egg on other teams face. So just don't understand why they thought they needed to something so dumb. There for they did it to themselves what about Mechanicsville Va, I fee sorry for them

Unknown said...

I guess nobody understands anything about being "caught up in the moment". These kids are from a small town in Virginia. They got to travel way across country probably for the first time in their lives. They were winning and very excited. So they posted a picture of rebellion. It's not the most favorable picture ever..but atleast they didn't moon anyone. People have forgotten what it's like to be young and rebellious. Each of you that think theses girls are such horrid human beings need to stop and think about yourselves and the kinds of things you did as a kid that age. Maybe you didn't do it all the time..but if you think back for one moment, I bet you could think of something you did that would have ticked grown ups off. You guys are such hypocrites for thinking they should be anything more than just benched. They all worked very hard to get where they got. And to be put down by a bunch of people who look down at them is just despicable!

Anonymous said...

I'm with you Joy. They're guilty of doing something dumb. That's it. They didn't commit a crime against humanity. A serious warning would have been enough to get the message across. Punishments are supposed to fit the "crime."

Anonymous said...

Well said and as far as mooning let's put a little funny out there from about 20 years ago when during a pretty heated game one of the players stepped out of the dugout in the middle of the inning and mooned the opposing team. A pretty funny moment my dad was the plate umpire for and had to eject that player. All of these folks out there condemning these young ladies need to take a look back in life, we have all had that one moment in time where we have been caught up in the moment and made a poor decision.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you also Joy. Hypocrites is a great word. It's not like the adults or senior citizens are even setting a good example for these younger people to follow.
Politicians, teachers, clergy, law enforcement, etc all setting bad examples.
In the grand scheme of things this was nothing-yet adults like to beat up on the younger generation as if they are something special and perfect. The fact that the system allowed a team that cheated to actually play for the final game is a perfect example of where the adults fail. We see that in professional sports also. Winning is the only thing that matters.
Sorry adults, these children are products of your families, your greed, your lack of morals. Honestly compared to many adults these children are better than you and will most likely continue to improve as they learn from your mistakes. I have more faith that they will improve than I have faith the older generations will.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we need to help these children and move on. However, I agree with action 100%. Not only did they embarrass themselves/coaches and their families, they also embarrassed ALL Virginians! Also, Paul Woody's RTD article today is also a SAD statement on our culture today. The action they did will NOW BECOME A VIVID REMINDER to all children to NOT "act like people on Facebook" or like those girls. Take pride in your family name and your Team and your neighbors/ Virginians. Be a Gentleman or a Lady. Treat people how you want to be treated. This is a great painful lesson but its about time to hold the line with what is right and what is wrong. For those whom think this is not a bad act....well as Tim T would say...I will pray for you too and ask yourself this question. If your son or daughter say age 5 or 8 or 10 saw this would you explain it to them ? and HOW WOULD YOU FEEL? I bet sad for 90% of you- I HOPE!

Anonymous said...

I will say that after reading a few of the above comments that the girls maybe caught up in the moment but my comments ABOVE are based on what I heard also about a contract signed by them. I believed they SIGNED a social media agreement? If they did then- my above comments reflect that fact. We do need to remind ourselves that all kids can make a mistake so let celebrate their season and let them know we care about them for the long term.

Unknown said...

Well said. I think they could have taken things in another direction. Yes i get the girls were wrong but whats on the field is on the field. Keep your heads up girls. We all have to learn from our mistakes.

Anonymous said...

These girls made a decision to react in a manner that one was not lady like two showed poor sportsmanship. They also were representing Hanover Virginia. These girls responded in the manner in which a teenager would respond. It does not make it right. My point is that they should have been punished. The punishment was appropriate for what they did. They were in uniform and in the dugout when they made the decision to take the picture, therefore they should have lost their privilege to play in that game. In my opinion and we all have one the punishment was appropriate for the circumstances surrounding the Acton. I feel awful for these young lady's. They undoubtedly deserved to be at the world series. They are outstanding athletes. However, they made a poor decision. Decisions have consequences . Unfortunately this was a HUGE consequences. I pray these young ladies have learned an important valuable lesson.

Unknown said...

Hear, hear Kellie. Very well said.

Unknown said...

Michael, it just so happens they are juveniles. One thing we should all be able to do is learn from our mistakes. The other thing to learn is to not harshly judge people you don't really know. They made a mistake and have paid a high price for it. Let's hope you don't make any mistakes in your life.

Unknown said...

This was a mistake by girls on a team. These girls had no knowledge that it would be posted on social media. Maybe a better option would have been to suspend the girl who posted it. The entire incident demonstrates poor sportsmanship. Sadly, our current society ethos is sadly lacking in examples for our young people. It's too bad that the entire team and parents had to suffer the consequences.

Anonymous said...

Look, the girls made a mistake. But good sportsmanship is as much a part of winning as athletic ability. They were punished accordingly - and now its time to move on from the incident. I'm sure the girls learned their lesson, and not only will they not make the same mistake again, but hopefully they will serve as an example to other young athletes who may think about acting disrespectful in a very public forum.

Chets ramblings said...

The girls are learning a valuable lesson. the other question that I have is what is the coaches role in this, at a basic level they set the attitude of the team. One of my early coaches had a rule that if you said anything other then yes sir or no sir to a referee you were out of the game and on the bench. When I violated it (on a ridiculous foul call) I sat on the bench for 3 quarters of a game. I gave my daughter the same rule when she played soccer, anything other then yes sir or no sir would see her pulled from the game and I made sure the coach knew it also. This was potentially a failure of adult leadership and the team leadership should be looking at the things that they did that made the girls think this was acceptable

Tommy Boggs said...

Why does there seem to be a feeling of sympathy for these girls? Yes, it's a terrible consequence, but they CHOSE to do these things, they have been told about social media and they are old enough to understand, own cell phones and have their own free will to post what they want.

I know it would be tough as a parent if my daughter was one of "the non-bird flippers" in the photo, but my message to her would be to stand up for what's right, and speak out. If someone had been brave enough to do that, then the coach would have found out early and maybe this wouldn't even have been seen by anyone, or maybe it wouldn't have been posted at all.

Additionally, think back to when you were a child- when you hurt someone else's feelings and you apologized, was it always heartfelt? I'm going to guess probably not- and I'm also going to guess you mostly apologized because you were told you HAD to, as was the case here. That's also the only move the coaches could have made to 'save the team's skin.'

Also, do you actually think the Kirkland girls were offended by getting "flipped the bird?" Kids these days are exposed to all sorts of things- sex, drugs, alcohol and other vulgarity at a very early age. If you don't think it's true, ask your child to scroll through their Twitter timeline.

End the sad sob narrative that it's not fair. Atlee coaches in the media questioning the authority of the organization, publicly questioning the rule book. That my friends, is likely part of the reason these girls exhibited the poor judgement in the first place. Coaches making statements such as these are undermining the fact the girls broke a rule and got consequences for it. And of course, media capitalizing by taking a certain stance to get exposure.

I've seen many comments that read "Oh, the Kirkland team cheated!!!" In the latest RTD article (the one with all of the signs for the photo), the coach of the Atlee team said that the social media post came BEFORE the game with Kirkland. Which is it? There's two different narratives of what went down out there, and a whole lot of other details that no one will ever know.

And- Stealing signs is a part of baseball/softball- the league followed that rule by ejecting the player and coach, and that's the right call. Stealing signs has been a part of baseball and softball since it started- if your signs are that obvious, perhaps they need to be more complicated. It's similar to if another country intercepted and decoded a message from an enemy during a war.

And I want to bring this up for perspective- No can can tell me if everyone would be singing the same tune if a group of African American athletes threw up a hand symbol at any sporting event. I'm sure all of the apologists would be lined up, right? This is a great example of white privilege, and I'm a white man. I don't care what kind of a symbol it is, "F*** You" is a pretty strong message.

In short, most of the reactions to this are ludicrous and making excuses for the girls who clearly broke a rule. It's a life lesson, get over it and all of this "Atlee is a victim" stuff is just as terrible as flipping the bird itself.

Phil Roof said...

Thanks for posting this, Tommy! Someone finally gets the point.

Anonymous said...

Six girls were on the photo. Not the whole team. One girl posted it - possibly without the knowledge of the other five. The whole team was banned. Bad call.

Ban the poster. Sure. I get that. Banning the whole team is nonsense as are all these "That'll teach them" comments.

What lesson are the girls who were not in the photo supposed to learn from this?

For those of you who've never been to war, "collective punishment" is something frowned upon. It leads to atrocities and is actually banned by the Geneva Convention. Something for the armchair law and order types to chew on.