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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, February 23, 2024

Beyond Sports: Stop cyberbullying high schoolers

On Sunday, Aug. 29, high school football powerhouse IMG Academy defeated Bishop Sycamore High School 58–0. This was not an ordinary game. After their defeat, investigations into Bishop Sycamore began to bring its predatory practices to light. 

Bishop Sycamore does not truly exist as a school, with no physical facilities or academic workload. The adults associated with the “school” essentially created a football team without enough helmets or athletic trainers and called it an athletic institution. Bishop Sycamore’s head coach, Roy Johnson, who was fired after news of his conduct broke, led players to believe his program would land them elite college offers, improve their GPAs and other lies. Meanwhile, he failed to provide proper housing, food and other necessities promised to athletes. It has even been reported that Johnson faces an arrest warrant and other civil lawsuits, all while he led his team out to play the No.1 ranked team in the country.

Now, through all of this, the majority of the headlines were about the conduct of Johnson and other administrative figures linked to the Bishop Sycamore facade. But despite the administration’s misdeeds, an overlooked consequence of the scandal was online abuse levied at Bishop Sycamore’s athletes. These were high school kids that put their trust in coaching figures, with some even possessing legitimate connections to major collegiate programs. In return, the players received no education, a subpar football program and ridicule via social media.

One common particular sentiment regarded the ages of the Sycamore players. In particular, a California quarterback who was supposed to graduate last year was competing for the Sycamore team as a reported member of the Class of 2021. Their number of so-called “re-class” players has led to memes mocking the players as 30-year-olds, professional athletes being “linked” to Bishop Sycamore and other more obscene, genuinely foul comments toward the players, who we cannot forget are still in their teens.

Additionally, the practice of reclassifying has been adopted around the country, with countless players using it to graduate either earlier or later. IMG Academy itself has kept athletes back a year to strengthen their recruiting profile, while their players posted TikToks suggesting that they had defeated a team made up of grown men. 

It is hypocritical to mock high schoolers for making such a common choice especially when they made that decision while under the influence of a known con man. 

It is unclear on how much of the deceit truly came from Johnson, but he may have even fabricated college interest and led his players to believe they had fake scholarship offers.A wide receiver for Johnson’s program has been hit hard by online trolls after claiming offers from Ohio State and Clemson: offers that were never extended. Beyond online abuse being unacceptable regardless of circumstance, critics fail to recognize the influence that high school coaches possess over their players. 

It has already been established that Johnson was, at best, a coach who put his players’ recruiting over everything. He has also proven to be dishonest, both to those around the country and within his programs. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that he is the source of these falsified collegiate reports, not the athletes? He very well could have convinced the wide receiver that Ohio State had in fact extended him an offer, especially given the promises that were made to the players.

The athletes of Bishop Sycamore were hoodwinked and taken advantage of by a manipulative, dishonest figure, of the kind that is all too common in youth and amateur sports. Do not make the athletes the villains in this story simply for pursuing their dreams.