Just Apologize: College Applications and the Duxbury Football Team Scandal
Players are submitting their college applications without apologizing for or discussing lessons learned from the anti-Semitism scandal. They end up looking oblivious at best, complicit at worst.
The advice here is applicable to any student applying to college, especially those who come from privileged backgrounds. If you are a member of a team that becomes involved in a widely publicized scandal, especially one involving the mistreatment of other people, you really should address the scandal in your college application. Adults will forgive you if you apologize and show what you have learned. Apologizing can even make you a stronger candidate. On the other hand, not apologizing makes students look bad, really, really bad.
This fall many past and present members of the Duxbury High School Football team will be applying to college. In that endeavor, they will be helped by many factors. They attend a well-regarded public high school. Women outnumber men on college campuses by a ratio of 3 to 2, so men are often held to less strict admissions standards. Many families in Duxbury can pay the full cost of attending college, a fact that holds considerable weight at the vast majority of colleges and universities in the nation. A few of the applicants are especially talented football players, a skill that will allow some of them to forgo the usual academic requirements needed to enter the nation’s most elite colleges. That’s what privilege gets you.
Each member of the football team will also be facing some countervailing headwinds created by the football team scandal of last spring. Sadly, despite the anti-Semitism, misogyny, and many other infractions uncovered, the team itself has yet to apologize for what happened. What’s worse, many parents appear to be fiercely reluctant to allow their children to address the issue on students’ college applications. That’s a mistake. Adults forgive young people when they make mistakes and learn from them, but not when they are defiant and unapologetic. Not apologizing will leave admissions officers wondering whether they should admit someone from a team that used play calls like “Auschwitz” and “gas chamber” on the football field, where players routinely made disgusting comments about women, and whose players were reportedly given special academic and behavior privileges in their high school.
Privilege being what it is, some admissions officers will have to suppress their scruples and admit the applicants for institutional reasons — the need for more male students, for families that can play full freight, to fill up up the college football roster. Some, however, will stick to their scruples and throw players’ applications in the deny pile. All students need to do to avoid such a fate is to take responsibility for what happened on their team.
So far, the excuses that I have heard for not apologizing have not made a lot of sense.
Excuse #1: My kid did not do it. I have yet to talk to any parent or football player who has acknowledged playing any role in the scandal. Indeed, I have yet to hear from anyone who will admit that they ever heard any anti-Semitic term used on the football field. That is very literally unbelievable.
A better posture would be to assert every member of the team is responsible for what happened on the team. Hence, every member of the team should apologize and explain what happens.
Denying responsibility creates a bad impression. Students who blame other people come across as disloyal to their friends and teammates and as guilty themselves.
Excuse #2: The admissions officers won’t know about the scandal unless I tell them about it. Such thinking is surprisingly widespread in Duxbury. Parents should know that admissions officers are responsible for knowing about the schools in their region. As such, they will certainly know about this scandal, which was nationally covered and the subject of multiple Boston Globe reports. What’s more, multiple students from Duxbury are likely to apply to the same schools, and it is very likely that some of those students will write about their own response to the scandal.
Excuse #3: The other members of the team are my brothers so I can’t criticize them, or I have to be loyal to my teammates and coaches. Such statements make it seem like students have not learned anything from the scandal. Indeed, when students say things like this they sound like they lack a moral compass and are susceptible to peer pressure. Specifically, they send the signal that they are likely become involved in hazing or other toxic group activities while in college.
The whole problem with the team was that all sorts of bad things were going on, but no one spoke up. Players and assistant coaches were more loyal to the group than to principles of right and wrong. The best way a player can exhibit loyalty to teammates is to take responsibility as a member of the team and to discuss what the team as whole has learned from the scandal.
Excuse #4: Shouting “Auschwitz” at a game is not anti-Semitic. No explanation is needed. People who make statements like this sound like Neo-Nazis. Like many other Duxbury residents, I was aghast when people in Duxbury made this point publicly. I hope they have reconsidered their position.
Excuse #5: Boys will be boys. The “boys will be boys” excuse does not fly in American society today, especially not in college admissions offices. Boys will make disgusting comments about women, including their mothers and the coach’s wife, if they are taught to do so and if they are allowed to do so. If adults set a good example and demand the best from young men, those young people will learn to treat women respectfully, as people, not as objects.
Excuse #6: My kid is a good kid. Most kids are good kids, but no one has a perfect kid. A college application gives students with an opportunity to present themselves to people who do not know them. Those people, the admissions officers, only know what students tell them on their applications. That communication stands alone, separate from the applicants themselves. In other words, that communication is separate from the essence of a particular student and from that student’s character. But if the student fails to address a glaring problem, such as the behavior of the football team, that oversight speaks for itself, indicating a lack of character. Unfortunately, even though many of the boys on the team do want to address the scandal on their applications, their parents won’t let them do so. In making that choice, all parents are doing is making their own children look bad.
Excuse #7: The whole scandal was an overreaction, a product of woke culture and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Students would be advised to avoid statements like this on their college applications. Those who both understand and oppose CRT object because they believe that the theory overgeneralizes about race and makes white children feel bad about themselves.1 Opposition to CRT, however, should not be used to excuse very serious instances of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and other bigoted behaviors.
Everyone understands that parents are protective of their children, but it is important to realize that sometimes those feelings can lead to counterproductive behavior. In the case of the Duxbury football scandal, failure to address the scandal signals a distinct lack of character from the students themselves as well as from their parents and coaches and everyone else associated with Duxbury schools.
Students should remember that they are submitting their application to a group of people, almost all of whom want to do the right thing. No one wants to be the person who admitted a bigoted student who caused problems on campus. Doing so feels wrong.
One difficult decision to admit a young man with VIP connections but questionable integrity still haunts me to this day.
— Becky Munsterer Sabky, former admissions officer at Dartmouth College in her book Valedictorians at the Gate
For Duxbury football players applying to college this year, the decision to apologize and explain what you have learned from the scandal is about more than gaining a leg up in admissions. It is also about making sure that the people like Becky who will be reading your application will feel comfortable admitting you. Showing them that you have learned and that you will be a good citizen on campus is a kind thing to do. Considering other people in this way and thinking through what you have learned will make you a better person, someone more worthy of admissions to college. You will become a better adult. Later, when you have children and they do something stupid or unkind, you will know how to help them become better people as well.