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Why are we not surprised?
Why is it so easy to believe that high school sports fans would taunt an opposing player about his father’s death?
Why does that not seem impossibly mean-spirited and cruel, not to mention bold — especially in a public setting where coaches, parents and school officials are present?
And why do we see the headlines and naturally assume they could be true?
Because that seems to be the tenor of the time and place we’re in now.
As the News & Record’s Joe Sirera reported Tuesday, the incident in question allegedly occurred at a playoff soccer game in Durham on Nov. 1 between Page High School and Jordan High School. A Page parent has alleged that some resourceful Jordan students used social media to research the backgrounds of Page players for ammunition for their heckling.
What they came up with, the parent says, was information that one player’s father — her late husband — had died in 2015 from colon cancer.
Nancy Winkler, whose son Eric is a senior goalkeeper for the Pirates, posted on Facebook on Saturday that the Jordan students chanted “Where’s your dad?” at her son during the game, Sirera reported.
“I mean, honestly, I cried from Durham back to Greensboro because it just ripped open a scab,” Nancy Winkler told WRAL-TV in Raleigh. “My husband suffered and he fought, fought, fought to stay here for these kids.”
Said Eric Winkler of his father to WRAL: “It was pretty tough on me because he was my best friend. Growing up he was always there for me and to hear, ‘Where’s your dad at?’ That’s pretty hard to swallow. I play soccer to get rid of my problems.”
Not only did the fans mention her husband, Michael, Nancy Winkler posted, but they also showered her son with vulgar references to his girlfriend, whose name she believes they also found on the internet.
Nor was her son the only Page player singled out for abuse. Winkler added on Facebook that the Jordan students heckled another player whose “father committed suicide amidst allegations of embezzlement.” She wrote that they chanted, ‘Where’s the money?’”
Making matters worse, Winkler said in her post, the taunting continued after the soccer match had ended in a 2-0 Jordan victory.
Of course, these are only allegations. Some Jordan students and parents who attended the game said they didn’t hear the taunts. But it’s hard to believe that Winkler and her son would invent such a story out of thin air. Or that they would fold a teammate’s tragedy into that narrative.
To be sure, athletes and fans and aren’t unaccustomed to creative cruelty. The legendary Cameron Crazies at Duke are notorious for testing the boundaries of taste.
But finding humor in someone else’s tragedy is going too far ... isn’t it?
You have to wonder if this says something about the age we’re in. You have to wonder the role social media — which can be a breeding ground for bullying — has lowered standards of common decency. You have to wonder as well as what examples we adults are setting.
Finally, if even only a fraction of what has been alleged is true, one has to wonder what the grown-ups in attendance were doing as it played out. Covering their eyes and ears?
Officials at Jordan and the Durham Public Schools say they are investigating. The N.C. High School Athletic Association, the governing body, which lists respect as one of its eight core values, is considering what, if any, action to take. As it stands, there are no specified penalties for this kind of behavior. What a sad state of affairs that there would need to be.