We talk all the time about the actions of parents and the impact they can have on their kids softball career. Whether it’s negatively impacting the player’s experience with the game, or creating a tough situation between the player and her coaches, or harassing an umpire or opponent, there are too many instances where we talk about the crazy parents who are ruining the game.
Now I admit that the “crazy” parent is a small percentage of the supporters of our great game, but like in every arena, the loud minority gets too much attention. One of the things that’s always troubled me is that these vocal parents seem to have free range to say anything they want about a coach, while the coach usually has no outlet to defend themself.
Well, at the high school level that may be changing and changing in a big way. The Minnesota Supreme Court cleared the way for high school coaches to defend themselves — in court!
The question had been were school-ball coaches public officials similar to elected positions. For elected officials, the ability to sue someone for defamation of character or slander is very difficult. The nature of a political office or public position requires that person to be willing to accept a very high level of criticism, even when we might think of it as defamation in the real world. When coaches were lumped into that same category, the people who criticized them were protected from litigation, which meant that it was often open season.
This case came before the Minnesota Supreme Court because a high school basketball coach felt he had been defamed by a parent who clearly intended to get the coach fired. The campaign worked and the coach’s contract was not renewed. Then, when getting the coach fired wasn’t enough, the parent continued a campaign to smear the coach, who is also a teacher in the district.
The coach filed suit. It was originally dismissed, but eventually went before the Supreme Court. He now has the opportunity to receive financial reparations for the damage that these parents caused him and his career.
The good news is that a coach who feels like they were defamed will now have the ability to take those people to court. The bad news is that the way things are going more and more coaches might need to take advantage of this opportunity.