Sunday, July 21, 2013
Striking out to set the record straight
What do you do when someone else gets blamed for a mistake you made?
An assistant coach of a Babe Ruth League baseball team had to make that decision after an erroneous report in his local newspaper.
In an article about the retirement of a long-time umpire of youth sports throughout Cape Cod, Mass., the reporter mentioned an incident that occurred during the final game of the umpire's 36-year career.
With runners on first and third, the reporter wrote that the coach of the team shouted out to his pitcher that if the batter should decide to bunt the ball, the pitcher should "throw it at his head." Strategically, the coach may have had good intentions, but from a safety and sportsmanlike perspective, his instruction to his pitcher was egregiously inappropriate.
Still, the reporter noted that the umpire stepped in after the opposing team's coach started yelling at the offending coach about his instruction. The umpire broke up the argument and observed that the coach "didn't mean to say what he said," but had been caught up in the excitement of the moment.
Perhaps a questionable observation by the umpire who could have thrown the offending coach out of the game as a signal that such behavior is unacceptable in the league.
The worst part? The reporter got the name wrong of the coach who made the questionable instruction to his pitcher. He erroneously attributed the shout to throw the ball at the batter's head to another coach in the game. The coach who actually challenged the instructions given was the coach who got mistakenly blamed.
Eventually, the reporter caught on that a reporting error was made. A corrected story was posted to the online version and a correction was published in the print version the following week.
Was that enough? Granted, the wrong coach had been pegged for giving such bonehead instructions to his young pitcher, but by virtue of the correction being publicly made, the record had been set straight. Did the coach who actually shouted the instructions have any obligation to do more?
He appears to believe he did. In a lengthy letter published in the newspaper right after the event but before the correction appeared in print, the offending coach immediately identified himself as the coach who gave the instructions.
He went on to apologize to readers, acknowledged that he never should have given the instructions, and that he should have been thrown out of the game. He called the father of the batter to apologize and then spoke to the child who was at bat to explain to him how wrong he was.
He finished his letter by explaining that the game in question was his last as a youth baseball coach -- wishing it had ended under better circumstances. Still, he wrote that he hoped his mistake could be used to help future coaches not to repeat his error.
Was the coach obligated to offer a public apology? No, but in trying to set the record straight and make sure that a fellow coach wasn't excoriated for something he didn't do, he did the right thing by owning up to what he had done and articulating why it was wrong.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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(c) 2013 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.