Published in the St. Louis American, December 12, 2019
The fate of Coach Trey Porter has finally been determined. Some would say the determination had little to do with his violation of the social media policy. Others would say the decision had nothing to do with enriching the lives of the students at Roosevelt High School. I side with the latter viewpoint.
Just because I’m not an investigative reporter doesn’t mean that I don’t get information from trusted sources. My sources were close to the situation and close to the firing squad. Among other things, they told me that other staff have contacted students through social media, both at Roosevelt and across the school district. They told me that this appeared to be a power play, not uncommon when institutions want to make an example of a person who stands up for righteousness.
Sadly, the voices of the young people and parents who supported the football coach were ignored. Their feelings were unmistakably clear. Students protested with a walkout, joined by supportive Roosevelt staff, parents and community members.
The main reason there’s a need for a social media policy for those working with children and youth is to prevent adult predators from taking advantage of their positions of power. A coach using all means of communications to stay in touch with his players who live in high-risk environments doesn’t fit into those parameters. Porter was transparent in his actions: he was concerned for the safety and security of his football team.
People who have ongoing relationships with young people are often that caring adult who is making a real difference in their lives. Teachers, coaches and program staffers know a lot about these kids’ lives and the trauma they face. They are trusted by the youth in ways that other people can’t understand. Youth will confide in a caring adult before they confide in their own parents. That’s how special the bond is.
This category of adults can tell you stories of how they snatched a youth from the brink of disaster. How they patched up a relationship between a kid and their parent. How they bought food for a hungry student. Or how they helped a student fill out a job application. They are truly life coaches saving lives.
I believe coaches form a special relationship with their athletic family. They often see the players more than the parents do. They are there during the highs and lows of young people both on and off the field. They get up close and personal offering up tough love when needed.
When I think about coaches, I think about Coach Frank Walker who brought a scrawny, homeless kid into his family who he thought had potential. That nine-year-old was LeBron James. LeBron’s life was forever changed.