Internet Trash Talk
Michigan high school sports officials want to clean up more than bad behavior on the athletic field.
After a rash of “trash talking” by students on a popular Internet site used by high school sports fans around the state, the Michigan High School Athletic Association will for the first time emphasize online sportsmanship.
Most online high school sports postings are good-natured boastings and debates about teams and players. In some cases, however, students have launched mean- spirited, personal attacks on coaches and athletes.
Christine Sermak, the president of the athletic association’s basketball committee, recounted the story of a junior varsity girls’ basketball coach who resigned two years ago in the middle of the season after she read comments posted about her on Mlive.com, which offers state news links and chat rooms about Michigan high school sports.
“She discovered there was a whole chat room dedicated to ripping her apart as a person and as a coach,” Ms. Sermak said. “For it to be in print like that, she said it wasn’t worth it and she quit.”
In another incident, a posting went into detail about supposed sexual and personal characteristics of one of Ms. Sermak’s basketball players.
“The player said half the stuff wasn’t even true. I tried to assure her nobody reads it,” she said. “Well, a lot of people read it.”
In response to the disturbing trend, the basketball committee of the state athletic association discussed the issue at a meeting in December, and online behavior will be the subject of further discussion at a rules meeting later this year.
“We want to heighten people’s awareness of this,” said John Johnson, the communications director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association. “Coaches will be asking their kids to display good sportsmanship on the court and online.”
Mr. Johnson added that the organization has a good relationship with the operators of the Web site. He said that they do their best to monitor discussions and delete inappropriate material.
“On your own site you can say what you want, but this is on someone else’s site,” he said.
“This is not a free-speech issue,” Mr. Johnson continued. “If you have a guest in your home and you don’t like the way they are acting, you can ask them to leave. Nobody wants to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, but it has gotten to the point where people are being misrepresented.”
—John Gehring firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 2002 edition of Education Week