The Flagrant Foul Fiasco
Under national condemnation, the small community of Connell is forced to protect its native son and its reputation.
Written by Ryan e Rowe
“Sports play a societal role in engendering jingoist and chauvinistic attitudes. They are designed to organize a community to be committed to their gladiators,” Noam Chomsky once famously said.
In the matter of the flagrant foul fiasco, of Connell High School basketball fame, Chomsky appears to be a prophet of sorts.
More than 6.5 million viewings of wazzumichael’s YouTube video have demonized Cole Vanderbilt (#34) and everyone associated with him. Comments target Vanderbilt, the team, Coach Garza, and all of Connell, WA, as a clan of roughnecks, blind to violence. These days Connell fights an uphill battle of saving face, while at the same time attempting to shelter Vanderbilt from publicized societal and athletic condemnation. In the end, Connell may realize that the two actions cannot coexist.
Connell’s local newspaper has encouraged the community to commit to its gladiators. Katherine Bingham of the Franklin County Graphic, based out of Connell, quotes local bystanders Jamie Utecht and Daniel Purkeypyle, both Connell High School graduates, in the article “Lessons to be learned as video thrusts North Franklin into viral world.” No matter how unaffiliated to the high school basketball team, the bystanders’ comments position the viral video as an issue to be dealt with by the entire community, rather than one for the high school administration alone.
In comparison, the Tri-City Herald seems to maintain some distance from the fiasco by quoting only superintendents and athletic directors in Craig Craker’s article, “Basketball video first goes viral, then national.” Thus Connell and its newspaper find themselves in the position of being left alone to face the millions of disputers and rabble-rousers who have banded together, demanding that the coaches and administration—or anyone at all—take action regarding the hostile on-court behavior demonstrated against Highland High School’s basketball team.
Fifteen minutes of fame would seem like a dream come true to any small town athlete who ever hoped to become a household name, if featured in clips of poised play and acclaimed victories. But with wazzumichael’s video and its five minutes and 17 seconds of smash-mouth game play—of a kind seen more often on a football field than a basketball court—Cole Vanderbilt has instead become a target of instantaneous hatred.
According to comments attached to the video, anyone or anything remotely associated with Vanderbilt’s performance is criticized, from “the coaches and parents” by ginarossify, to pointing out his use of “Doc Martens” on the basketball court by quisqueya100. However, most notable in these trending comments is how Vanderbilt’s actions are used to label his character. For instance, olywa1978 shared this opinion: “I can just tell that #34 is one of those jock bullies that think they’re big and bad and feed their own egos and ‘cool point’ collection by picking on smaller, weaker kids. Somebody needs to completely destroy that kid!”
A majority of the viewers who commented on the video used the debacle as an opportunity to describe Vanderbilt as the epitome of a bully, encouraging other readers to “bring him down” on behalf of all bully victims. One went so far as to create a Facebook page dedicated to distributing his personal information—including his cell phone and his family’s home phone numbers—resulting in hate mail and death threats.
In cyberspace, this is the modern equivalent of grabbing the torches and pitchforks, and the small community of Connell faces the daunting task of protecting its infamous basketball player from the outside world.
No matter the stance, every function of media seems to fuel the rabble-rousing. Attention to the flagrant foul fiasco reached its pinnacle when the video clip aired on CNN, with ESPN’s LZ Granderson nationally embarrassing Vanderbilt and the high school he represents by saying that Vanderbilt was “physically trying to intimidate and bully, not just be physical with the player.”
Although the fiasco seems to be on its last leg of attention, the high school administration’s sheltering of the student-athlete from discipline and its hiding behind a wall of silence has left the community of Connell with a repugnant scar.
In the absence of any public disciplinary action, Connell is perceived as an enabler of bullying, and its image has not been helped by the basketball coach’s characterization of Vanderbilt as a “teddy bear,” which has itself been met with scorn.
From this experience, we see the kinds of battles small communities face when forced into the limelight, and we see how easily coverage of sports gives birth to public controversy. All the world is a stage, especially in a spectator sport like basketball. It is now an era when every trespass can be captured and exposed and every person held accountable for his or her actions.
The Connell community has been put to the test, and hopefully can rebuild its reputation with the ethics and fair play it knows its “gladiators” are capable of performing.