Broadcasting a lousy picture

Published 9:07 pm Friday, October 22, 2010

The video footage looks to have been shot from hundreds of feet away from the action with equipment dating from the 1970s. The action is jumpy, the participants indistinct, the resolution unclear in all senses of the term. In fact, those are the very reasons that the Suffolk News-Herald was able to get the footage of an Oct. 8 fight following the Indian River at Lakeland High School football game.

In one of the Catch-22s created under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, the only way the public could see the school system’s video of the melee was if that video were effectively useless in helping to identify those who were involved in the fight, which began as the teams shook hands at midfield following the game. A video in which students could be identified would qualify as a student record and therefore be exempt from public disclosure, school system officials said when they provided the video file to the newspaper.

Of course, a primary reason for wanting to see the video is to identify who was involved. Dozens of people from both teams mixed it up at midfield and then moved to the Lakeland sideline. Fans could be seen leaving their seats in the stands and joining the fray. But only one person — a Lakeland player whom the system has not identified — has admitted being involved in the fight. Administrators suspended him from school for three days and from the football team for two weeks.

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Who were the other players involved in the fight? How did it start? Were coaches involved in the fight? Did the coaches try to break it up or were they more aggressive in their response? What caused the fight to break apart? Were the police officers on duty during the Lakeland game able to have any effect on the situation?

None of these questions can be answered with the video released by the Suffolk Public Schools system. Perhaps it is little more than unhappy coincidence that the video footage provided is so unhelpful. And maybe there is no other footage that school officials have been able to use to identify the culprits in the incident and punish them appropriately.

But one thing is certain: More than one Lakeland athlete was on that field Oct. 8 throwing punches. And absent an outbreak of honesty amongst his participating teammates — or a clearer video that exposes the matter completely — the whole team should share in the punishment.

For a school with such sad connections to violence recently — including students involved in a street fight that was broadcast on YouTube and the murders of two football players — the lesson the administration has taught in this instance is indefensible.

If adult leaders are so eager to effectively turn a blind eye to such violence on the football field, how can they be surprised when their youthful charges do the same thing when they see it in the streets of their neighborhoods? If the adults do not denounce the violence on the field in the most distinctive fashion, how can they profess dismay when those youth turn to it to solve their problems?