The St. Joseph High School football players gathered in coach Paul Sacco’s basement the night before they hosted Haddonfield last month.
The Wildcats ate pizza and bonded with each other.
What some of them didn’t do, was think.
St. Joe suspended Sacco — the winningest coach in South Jersey history — and some players after a Snapchat video surfaced Wednesday that revealed St. Joe players using racial slurs, taunting Haddonfield players and cursing.
The suspensions were a swift and proper response. The school has also banned Sacco from holding team functions at private residences. A wise move because in today’s world, it’s just not practical to have any high school team at a home without multiple adults to supervise.
But this incident needs to be viewed with perspective.
Sacco and his wife, Peggy, have devoted their lives to St. Joe. His 37 seasons at the schools, all his good work, and the countless outstanding individuals his program has helped shape are not wiped out by one Snapchat video.
The players are teenagers, who at the time didn’t think they were doing anything wrong or envision the consequences of their actions. They deserve the chance to learn and grow from this incident.
But the Wildcats and all high school teams and athletes must learn from what happened here. This matter isn’t the fault of the media or the person who emailed the video to Haddonfield and St. Joe administrators and reporters.
The use of racial slurs — no matter who it’s between — just isn’t going to be tolerated in 2018.
The video also speaks to the 24-hour-a-day danger of social media. The press of a single send button can lead to a whole lot of trouble.
Many coaches, school officials and parents consistently preach against posting things on social media that can come back to haunt you.
New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association executive director Larry White asked Wednesday if anybody is listening?
It seems that too few athletes – and not just St. Joe football players — are.
Finally, high school athletes have to understand that they are not anonymous students.
The old joke is that the only people to look back fondly on their high school days are the quarterback of the football team and the leading scorer on the basketball team.
Top high school athletes get their names in the paper and on websites.
Strangers congratulate them in the local Wawa or pizza parlor after a big win.
Firetrucks greet state championship teams with their sirens blaring for a parade through town.
These perks are even more pronounced at elite programs, such as St. Joe football.
The trade-off for these benefits is that elite high school athletes are expected to be leaders in their schools and communities, and when they screw up, people notice.
So if you’re a member of the Atlantic City or St. Augustine Prep boys basketball teams, the Mainland Regional girls basketball team, the Ocean City field hockey team or you’re the best athlete at Oakcrest, all eyes are on you.
There have been more than a few high-profile racial incidents involving New Jersey high schools the past few months.
It’s easy to excuse them away.
This is just kids being kids.
This is how kids talk to each other today.
What’s the motivation of the person who leaks the video or blows the whistle on the incident?
It’s just one player at fault and not the whole team.
But athletes aren’t just run-of-the-mill kids. They are and should be held to a higher standard.
Too much is given, much is expected.
The St. Joe football team found that out this week.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.
Contact: 609-272-7209 MMcGarry@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMcGarry