Arguello: Hilbert went overboard on suspension
Young people doing inappropriate things is as old as civilization itself.
That’s why Hilbert’s decision to suspend its star girls’ basketball player April Gehl is so surprising. Gehl was suspended on Wednesday for five games after tweeting an off-the-cuff response to the WIAA’s request for member schools to discourage “unsportsmanlike behavior” in students’ chants during games.
Gehl’s tweet, which remains on her account, did use profanity. But let’s be clear: this was a case of a young student-athlete who was unaware of how far-reaching a tweet could be on social media. It easily could have been said while she was with a large group of friends, which is the way many student-athletes view Twitter.
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Does it warrant a stern talking to from the Hilbert officials? Sure. Should Hilbert have requested Gehl take down the tweet and apologize? That’s seems fair.
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And judging by the statewide, national and international attention, there are many folks around the world who agree.But a five-game suspension? That’s clearly going overboard, especially when other infractions such as underage drinking or fighting would possibly produce the same length of suspension. There seems to be an imbalance on transgressions. Perhaps athletic codes from high schools need to be a bit more clearly defined. Whatever the answer, five games, or 25 percent of the basketball season, is far too much.
It was the WIAA that informed Hilbert of Gehl’s tweet. That may or may not have led to the quick action by the Hilbert officials. But the WIAA sticking its nose in this kind of business is another column for another time.
At the very least, this story should trigger discussions about how adults approach discipline and how we inform student-athletes about the dangers of social media. A level-headed and honest approach is needed. Student-athletes, in my extensive experience in dealing with them the past 20 years or so, respond much better to blunt but fair handling than overbearing smothering.
In Gehl’s case, her punishment is so over the top that it borders on absurd. Believe me, her peers in the state and beyond will pick up on this perceived mishandling, and that could make the respect demanded by school officials a bit more difficult to keep intact.
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter@PCRicardo