Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sports and Teen Pregnancy = Sour Mix

I wrote this argument paper for my law & media ethics class over the past week. I thought it was a nice topic to share with all of you.

In sports, there are often particular “barriers” that exist, and over the course of time these barriers have been broken and have opened new opportunities for people who wish to play. However, there are small issues and discrepancies that may often ruin the privileges, and these discrepancies may be brought out into the open for the public to know. In this paper, I will be talking about a case study found in the book Ethics in Media Communications: Cases and Controversies by Louis Alvin Day. This study, called “The Pregnant Placement Kicker,” is about a teenage girl named Judith Watkins from the region known as South Platte who earns a position on the high school football team as a placement kicker. During her tenure on the team she leaves for “medical reasons,” but these reasons are later revealed by a coach and it is found that she left the team because she is pregnant. Since this particular “medical reason” was not mentioned to the local press, many people are confused as to why the girl had left the team during the course of the season and why these reasons are not mentioned. The argument in this case is because she is a minor, and that personal information should not be given to the press for informative or entertainment uses. However, since the high school football team is considered a major “religion” in the town, news like this is taken seriously and people demand to know why the kicker is out of action. The main journalist in this case, Victor Simms, believes that Watkins’ pregnancy and subsequent leaving of the team was highly newsworthy. However, I highly disagree with this statement because of the reality of the matter affecting the young girl. Although I have never been pregnant or broken a sporting barrier in my town, I have a clear woman’s standpoint in the matter and think that a girl’s misfortune should not be taken advantage of and not be blown out to be a huge media cookout.
            In Simms’ argument, he states that because Watkins was a major story in the case that she was considered to earn all-state honors, her sudden leave from the team would be a very hot story and people would want to know why she did so. Also, this leave did not occur at the very end of the season; it occurred right before their matchup with their archrivals, and her absence could play a large role in their future successes throughout the rest of the season. Another argument he brought up was the case of the coach’s mention of her leaving for “medical reasons.” His claim was that this statement was misleading, and that people could take this statement in many ways, such as believing that her grades were poor or that she was romantically/sexually involved with a teammate. In this case, Simms’ approach would be that if they “set the record straight,” people would believe the statement and would be much more informed and less confused about what actually happened to Judith Watkins. In honesty, it is a very reasonable thing to bring up; there is a great deal of ambiguity in the media today, and any sort of statement could be taken in numerous different ways. To bolster his already supportive argument, Simms mentions that since this school is in such a small town that treats their high school athletes like they are professionals due to large amounts of press coverage, this secret of pregnancy will not remain a secret for very long, and that it will only be a matter of time before people in the town find out that she ultimately left the team because she was pregnant. This is a reasonable and often common problem when it comes to any kind of pregnancy among a high school girl in a small town. Unfortunately, many news broadcasts will create mainstream headlines that reach other regions if the condition becomes all too common in the area.
            This argument made me raise my eyebrows because in this day and age, it is somewhat common for girls to break the gender barrier in high schools and play on men’s sports teams. However, in a small area known in the book as South Platte, it is only fair to assume that a concept such as letting a girl play on an all-men’s team would be heavily looked down upon until the action of letting a girl do so was carried out. Not just this, but it would also be seen as crazy especially if this girl were to be unable to keep up with the rest of the boys on the team. Regardless of whether the girl is in the running to be an all-state kicker or is just a benchwarmer, her private life should not be exposed to the rest of the region, let alone journalists who believe that shocking, out-of-the-ordinary happenings should be plastered all over the area and lead to flat-out embarrassing the young girl. The following arguments I will make will defend my claim and express my heavy disagreement against Victor Simms’ argument. In this general argument, I will focus on the fact this news story would be a invasion of privacy and affect the well-being of Judith Watkins, her family, and the football coaching staff.
            First and foremost, Judith Watkins is a minor. You should not have the rights or even the thoughts to release this private information without her permission. It does not matter that she is from a small town and that people will eventually find out—a representative mentioned in the case study that it is still an invasion of privacy and there could be court actions taken if this law is broken. It’s not worth the hassle or the time to try and pry into a minor’s private life just because people are on edge about what’s going to be happening to the football team that she used to play for. People’s priorities when it comes to this are utterly selfish and cruel, and if people really cared, they would leave Watkins in peace during her pregnancy, and they would wait for her to come back after she has her child. In this case study, it is not disclosed whether she ever did return to the team after her pregnancy; however, I am assuming that they would have allowed her to come back and she would be able to explain herself.
            Secondly, allowing a story about teen pregnancy to surface in a small region like that will only open up another can of worms for the whole area involved in the case. Issues such as teen pregnancy and the like will begin piling up and make unnecessary problems for the coaching staff and even the school if the local news stories catch the eye of national newscasts. This ultimately ties back into the concept that Watkins is a minor and that it’s an invasion of privacy. There is a major chance that general public outside of the area of South Platte would take this story the wrong way and see the story that another wayward teenage girl got pregnant and is now a poor example of a small-town school. People who might not even care about high school football might completely ignore the whole fact that she was the kicker on the men’s football team and just assume that she’s a terrible person because she had unprotected sex.
            This brings up another argument in this case: if this story were to make headlines, it would be sensationalized to the point where the whole idea of the story would lose its original context. Although the story would have the undertones that she was the kicker for the football squad, the story would have a massive spin placed on it and newscasts would be drawing conclusions that she was sexually involved with one of her teammates. It would give a bad reputation to the school district and it would also shed a bad light upon female athletes and women’s sports. The reason why women’s sports would be spoiled would be because news readers/watchers would create the stereotype that female athletes are taking advantage of their athleticism to receive fame and sex. Then this small-scale problem would make a mountain out of a molehill—ergo a large invasion of privacy and then a nationwide scandal that would ruin the face of Watkins and the school.
            Finally, where is Watkins amid all of this? If you really want to know what is going on, she should be asked herself and in private whether she would care if people were to talk about this concept anywhere in the media outlets. It’s one thing to have a story, and it’s another thing to go on with a story pitch without her knowing of the whole quandary. It is fitting for Simms to approach her himself rather than going to an assistant coach and grabbing secondhand information. It is unfair and not right for someone to get alternate stories and opinions especially if the facts may not be 100% true.
Before anything, you need to ask yourself certain questions. If you’re a male, there’s a definitive chance that you will never have to ask yourself these questions because you obviously cannot have children. Would you want a large group of people pestering you just because you’re pregnant and you needed to leave your football team because of it? I bet it would be nice to grab people’s attention with it, but I would think that you would want privacy and all the support you could possibly get instead of people shoving cameras and notepads in your face asking you why you are pregnant, why you left the team, and why you made the decision to even have sex when you have something “important” to do in school. Wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable? From a feminine standpoint, I certainly would and more. There is nothing more unnerving than having someone that is not within your personal concern in your personal business, let alone business that very few understand the reasoning and the consequences. Because it is teen pregnancy and everyone is up in arms about why it is so common and why teens aren’t more cognizant of the subject, Judith Watkins will be seen by outsiders of South Platte as a wayward young girl who doesn’t know any better. Who knows? She could have been raped, she could have been drunk; if her pregnancy had surely come up from one of these processes, journalists and other media personnel would be asking a lot more questions. In fact, this story would be a larger bombshell in the area than it already is. However, these possibilities are not in the book and therefore go more off-topic than my argument should progress toward.
            In conclusion, I feel as if my argument is very efficient in noting that Victor Simms is incorrect in believing that the story of Judith Watkins’ pregnancy should make local headlines as it is an invasion of privacy. Also, she is a minor, and her misfortune should not be taken advantage of to make a shocking story known. Even though she broke many barriers in her area by making the men’s football team, which is all she should be known for. After she has her child, her life can return to normal, and she can continue to break barriers on the football team if she so chooses to return. One misstep should not be a reason to blow things out of proportion and sensationalize everything that happens in this girl’s life. How do you think she feels? Do you think she’s proud of what happened to her? At that age, she probably isn’t, since the rest of her life could be in jeopardy. Because of that, would you want to make things worse and have her pregnancy plastered all over the area and make high school football headlines? I certainly wouldn’t think so. The problem with Simms’ argument is that it ignores the vulnerability of the youth, and a process that is completely natural in a woman’s life should not be a victim of shock value in a realm of men’s sports. The grace of the media shouldn’t be spoiled by sneaking, spelunking, and trickery. 

(Oh God, I hope this paper gets a half decent grade.)
UPDATE: I got a 26/30 on this paper, which on an Ivy League grading scale is a B. FFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUDGE!!!!

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