Don’t be cross, it’s a free country
When I look at Steve Yingling, I start to worry. Not for him, but for myself and for the students at South Tahoe High School.
A few weeks back, our sports editor voiced an opinion about the girls cross country team. In a nutshell, he said they could have done better.
Maybe they could have; maybe not. That’s the nature of opinions: they can’t be proven or disproven.
And despite the howls of protest that erupted after the column appeared — from angry parents, school officials and the coach herself — the only ones who can speak with authority on the matter are the girls who actually did the running.
I know this because I ran cross country in high school, quite badly I might add. I lingered on the JV squad despite a lack of talent and a work ethic befitting a troubled teen.
Some letter writers have noted the challenge of pushing students without pushing too hard. In my case, the coaches didn’t push at all. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, I’m just saying coaches have always had split loyalties: developing talent and developing self-esteem do not always go hand in hand.
In any case, the underlying theme of the uproar is that it’s not OK to criticize teens or any of the adults charged with teaching them. The newspaper’s role, apparently, is to focus only on the positive and print happy news.
To be blunt, that’s a horrible lesson. That’s not how life works, not even in high school.
When the young men and women at South Tahoe High graduate, they’ll have to speak for themselves. I imagine they’ll think twice now before expressing an unpopular opinion. This community has taught them, through a flood of letters and angry phone calls, what happens when you go against the grain.
So it’s time for a little civics lecture, one that extends beyond the school gates. Our topic today is freedom of speech, which is guaranteed even in a small town.
Steve is not only entitled to his opinions, it’s an important part of his job to express them. Opinions make for lively, challenging reading and provide context to the daily news. Without opinions and analysis, journalists are reduced to parrots who simply repeat what others tell them.
It’s also important to remember that criticism is not the same as a personal attack. I’ve read Steve’s column two dozen times now and I’m still mystified by what people claim to read between the lines. I suspect the strong reaction has its roots in the mistaken belief that the Tribune has it in for the high school and/or Kathy Bluethman.
I would suggest you lay such conspiracy theories to rest. We don’t have time to harbor grudges. It’s unprofessional, counterproductive and, to be honest, we’re not that organized.
Besides, if you think Steve was harsh, you should see some of the stuff I’m going to write about our quiet little hamlet. I’ll likely bruise a few egos in the process and, as a result, I’ll come under fire for being biased, ignorant and mean-spirited.
That’s what happens when you express an opinion, not just here but anywhere where people are free to speak their minds. It’s not always pretty, but it sure is entertaining, and most importantly it’s your right as an American.
Let’s remember that teens are tough, even the “poor girls” everyone is rushing to protect. We don’t need to boost their self-esteem with false praise; they should stand on their own and take the good with the bad.
Let’s also remember a cross country team is made up of individuals. Each person’s goal is to endure one more mile, climb one more hill, take one more step. Often, the only glory they get is shaving one or two seconds off their personal best.
These runners have already proven they’re tougher than most, regardless of what anyone says about them. Adults would do well to follow their example.
Michael S. Green is managing editor of the Tribune. His column appears Fridays.
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