A group of young girls learned the hard way just how serious and far-reaching the consequences of social media missteps can be. The Atlee, Virginia girls' Little League team, comprised of girls ages 12-15, was disqualified from the Junior League World Series on August 4 after a post on Snapchat came to light in which the girls gave the middle finger to their opponents.
The Atlee team had been undefeated all week, and after winning against the girls' team from Kirkland, they posted a photo showing five out of six Atlee team members flipping the bird to their defeated opponents. Chris Mardigian, one of Atlee's three coaches, said the team had been targeted with harassment from Kirkland’s players.
Atlee manager Scott Currie was made aware of the post and made sure it was deleted immediately. He arranged for the girls to issue an in-person apology to the Kirkland team, which was accepted. Still, on Saturday morning, just hours before the championship game, the decision was made by Little League officials to pull the Atlee team from the game.
Little League spokesman Kevin Fountain released the following statement to the Times-Dispatch:
“After discovering a recent inappropriate social media post involving members of Atlee Little League’s Junior League Softball tournament team, the Little League International Tournament Committee has removed the Southeast Region from the 2017 Junior League Softball World Series for violation of Little League’s policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct, inappropriate use of social media, and the high standard that Little League International holds for all its participants.”
Currie said he disagreed with the decision, stating on Saturday that the punishment of his team did not fit the crime. Normally, team discipline is handled by coaches. Still, many see the decision as a stunning reminder, especially to young people, of just how conscious they need to be of what they post on social media.
"These girls had a softball coach who did a great job teaching them how to play the game of softball on its three-acre field in front of hundreds. But what about the game of social media that is played in front of billions of people — who is coaching them to win there?" social media coach Laura Tierney told TODAY Parents.
"I tell students and athletes to think of social media as the biggest game in the world, one that can be won or lost," said Tierney, who is also founder of The Social Institute. "And in a world where we get one reputation, it's never been more important to win. Winning means strengthening your reputation, encouraging and lifting up others, seizing collegiate and career opportunities. Teens today can use social media positively to be the best version of themselves — one post, one text, one snap at a time."
"Often in life, actions cause stronger consequences than we imagined," said parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa, of Ask Doctor G. "Whatever your thoughts are about whether or not this was fair or reasonable, it nevertheless provides the members of this team with the opportunity to practice humility, empathy and resilience," said Gilboa.
"Big life lessons are often why we, as parents, say we've signed our kids up for sports in the first place."