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CUNNINGHAM ON SPORTS: TIME FOR THE DEATH PENALTY AT RICHLAND

CUNNINGHAM ON SPORTS:  TIME FOR THE DEATH PENALTY AT RICHLAND Click to Enlarge

In 1987, the term "death penalty" took on a whole new meaning, a sports meaning.

Southern Methodist University received a new kind of punishment from the NCAA regarding rampant recruiting violations in it's football program.

The cheating was egregious enough that the NCAA doled out the most forceful punishment it could fathom:

No football next year.

The entire 1987 season was canceled. In addition to losing scholarships, future post-season opportunities, and other penalties, the NCAA decided SMU could go sit and think about it for a year.

On January 17th of this year, parents of students at Richland High School in Colfax, ND, approached school superintendent Tim Godfrey about a concern over a "rape game" in the school, a game that reportedly involved holding students down and using fingers to anally penetrate them. Other reports included toothbrushes being used, and students returning home with holes in their underwear.

The next day, Godfrey, along with high school principal Bruce Anderson, and athletic director John Freeman, decided to sit down with the boys in sports. According to Godfrey, Freeman said things like "I told you to knock this off" and "we've been through this before."

In case you have not been able to keep up with modern times, we have a word for forcefully penetrating someone with digits and objects against their will. That word is "rape".

So, if I interpret Freeman's statements correctly, the district had been "through" rape "before" and the students were forcefully punished with a "knock this off". Later in the meeting, the athletes were told that, should it happen again, that athlete would no longer play basketball that season.

Some punishment for rape, huh? To be fair, five of the male students have been charged with 10 felonies and 24 misdemeanors, including hazing, sexual assault, felonious restraint, and terrorizing. All charged as juveniles.

Now on to the adults in the room. Freeman is gone, but no one is giving a reason. Godfrey and Anderson will quietly move on at the end of the year.

Another scandal in public education that will result in very little. Someone will replace all three while two administrators ride away blameless.

If school districts will not do their jobs and begin terminating administrators in these situations for cause, denying them any benefits they may walk away with, it's time for the next best entity in North Dakota to take a stand.

That entity is the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

It's time for the death penalty at Richland. I know I'll catch heat for this from just about every parent and school administrator around. I already have, with an athletic director at a school to our southwest refusing to send me schedules over a Facebook post I made on the subject.

Nevertheless, the NDHSAA must respond with a bylaw in it's constitution that addresses this situation. No school district should be able to participate in NDHSAA events without being a school in good standing.

In case you're wondering, an investigation that dealt with parents, board members, administrators, and coaches generated statements like "boys will be boys", and "this kind of stuff happens all over the country".

That's not good standing.

The NDHSAA "death penalty" should involve:

1) The loss of that school district to participate in any NDHSAA-sanctioned event for a calendar year from the date of the punishment taking effect. NDHSAA events typically include regional and state tournaments. So, no post-season.

2) Any athlete at said school that was not involved in the illegal behavior is immediately eligible to transfer to another school district. Normally, a transfer without a parental move results in a one-year loss of eligibility. In these cases, that player can play right away.

3) (and here's the tough one) Any player who plays for that school in a regular season, non-sanctioned contest at the varsity level will be ineligible at any school district for the three following seasons.

Why that last one? Simple. Currently, with a few exceptions, the NDHSAA allows schools to fill their regular season schedules on their own, and only oversees the tournaments. Schools being hit with the "death penalty" would simply play their regular seasons, blame the bad boys at the NDHSAA for no tournaments (analogous to the continuous "Fighting Sioux nickname and logo debate), and still offer activities.

There should be no football. There should be no basketball, or anything else. No Friday night lights. No popcorn in the gym when the ball goes up.

It has to hurt.

I understand that the school will eventually be off of their punishment, so junior varsity programs can continue. Not varsity programs. You forfeited your right, as a district, when you ignored the "rape game". So, if a kid really feels like putting on your school's uniform, they can choose to at the expense of their athletic, or fine arts, careers.

Yeah, harsh, I know, and no, I don't want to take away an innocent student's ability to participate. This "death penalty" doesn't do that. The transfer rule protects their ability to play at the highest level.

What the "death penalty" does do is give the school board and administrators a reason to consider more than the "education family" of their employees and co-workers when they choose to cover up or ignore things like a "rape game". The retirement or resignation of the men in charge isn't enough. The Richland report said variations of the "rape game" have been going on there since 2015-16.

Three years of terrorism in locker rooms, hallways, and hotel rooms on trips. Ten felonies and 24 misdemeanors. Simply going back on the field this fall with new personnel is not enough.

If other schools will not support this, I would take it as an indication that we've lost our way on what public education exists for. It's not for wins and losses, its for education, including choices and consequences, accountability, honesty, and integrity. No athletic program is worth sacrificing that.

Students at Richland were raped, and their claims ignored to keep people employed and athletes on the field. These choices by local school districts need to come to an immediate halt.

It's time for the "death penalty".

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