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Hertzog: No winners in case of Pope John Paul II girls basketball suspensions

In a realm that delivers nightly winners and losers, last Saturday didn’t meet its quota.

On Thursday, the Pope John Paul II girls basketball team pulled off an impressive win, defeating Owen J. Roberts in the Pioneer Athletic Conference quarterfinals. Celebrating in the aftermath on the team bus, team members videoed themselves singing along to a profane, racial slur-filled song, a video that made its way to social media.

A night later, a game into the postseason, Pope John Paul II administration suspended the entire team and first-year head coach TJ Lonergan for one game.

So as to not forfeit the semifinal, the suspensions from administration and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were to be enforced on Feb. 9 or the “next scheduled game”, at the discretion of the coaching staff.

Feb. 9 marked the PAC semifinals against defending champion and state-ranked Spring-Ford; the next game a District 1 Class 5A playoff first round game on Feb. 19.

The former is a league tournament purely for local pride; the latter is a potential season-ending playoff game.

Competitively, it’s not hard to determine how a coaching staff would divvy out the punishment.

So the Golden Panthers fielded a lineup without eight players, their starting five and first three off the bench, and decisively lost to Spring-Ford, 71-21, in a contest short of high points.

Spring-Ford, ranked top 10 in Pa. and a team with District 1 and PIAA championship aspirations, was looking for a competitive game from a PJP squad that was coming off a strong performance in the quarterfinals. The Rams haven’t had a competitive game since Jan. 22, and after Pa. No. 1 North Allegheny cancelled their non-league meeting on Feb. 2, they were desperate for a challenging game. That’s not what they got.

Truth is, the suspensions at this stage of the season are a conundrum. Short of the school administration pulling the PJP girls’ team out of the district playoffs — a statement punishment to be sure but maybe an overly drastic option — it’s difficult to devise how better to inflict the suspensions.

The song reportedly on the video, “Kanga” by 6ix9ine, is objectively audio excrement, filled with sexually-explicit, racially insensitive lyrics from a rapper whose legal name is Daniel Hernandez and is currently incarcerated after pleading guilty to racketeering, firearms offenses and drug trafficking charges.

Nevertheless, most of us – present company included – have sang along to songs with inappropriate lyrics in their lives. It’s safe to say me rapping along to the Wu-Tang Clan as a high schooler wouldn’t have been a good look on social media, which is where much of the transgression lies: publicizing it.

In many eyes, even if it is not the same, this matter will get grouped with the Oct. 2017 incident of a video posted to social media showing several students from Pope John Paul II High School laughing and chanting the N-word.

This wasn’t a circumstance of hate speech, though.

But it was punishable, “featuring content that runs counter to the moral teaching and ideals of the school community” as stated by Archdiocese of Philadelphia Chief Communications Officer Ken Gavin.

“The actions of the team and the nature of their behavior is deeply concerning and contrary to the expectations and ideals to which PJP students are held,” Gavin said.

The way Saturday’s semifinal played out was also contrary to expectations. While the suspended PJP players exhibited the proper contrition in their body language during the game, the same can’t be said for some of their supporters: they obviously didn’t see any cause for suspension. One older PJP family member asked some of the suspended players, ‘Are you having fun?’ in a sarcastic tone midway through.

What had seemed like just an unfortunate mismatch for most of the game had the optics change in the final minute when the bench took the tone deaf approach of cheering uproariously to finish out a 50-point loss. No matter ones opinion on the suspensions, it played as disrespectful to the opposition and the conference as a whole. Even more tone deaf were the oddly defiant postgame claps and cheers of some PJP supporters. They clearly weren’t interested in what is meant to come from a punishment: learning a lesson.

Most coaches speak about wanting to ‘get better every game.’ It’s hard to see where that happened last Saturday.

In a realm that delivers nightly winners and losers, last Saturday didn’t meet its quota.

Everybody lost.



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