On December 22, Westfield (Mass.) High star Joe Mead was watching feet away from a loose ball scuffle between one of his teammates and the big man for Commerce (Mass.) High, center Sharvin Sands, during Westfield's 66-58 victory. As the two players on the floor began to shove and others rushed toward the scuffle, Mead ran in to defend his teammate.
Moments later he tottered away holding the side of his mouth, facing an unknown but lengthy layoff with a broken jaw, the victim of a violent sucker punch from Sands.
As you can see above, albeit with grainy quality, as soon as Mead reached the scene of the flashpoint, Sands decked him with a strong, full punch to the jaw. The shot broke Mead's jaw on impact, sending him to the hospital and ensuring that he would stay on the sideline for an extended period. As it currently stands, Mead is still recovering, close to three weeks later, though his coach Bill Daley expects him to miss as many as five more weeks.
While the victim of the incident has been forced to miss out on a significant portion of his senior season, Sands is already back in action for Commerce, returning after only a mandatory two-game suspension, as dictated by the MIAA.
Compare that penalty with a recent verdict in New York City, where South Shore (N.Y.) High and Jefferson (N.Y.) High were both forced to forfeit two games a piece because of a fight in their game, and the penalty against Sands seems pretty minor. Think about it: New York suspends two entire teams for a fight, while a Massachusetts school suspends a single player for two games, after what can only be considered a much more violent outburst.
Was that two game ban actually harsh enough to deter any future violent altercations like the one that unfolded in Massachusetts? Many feel not, as articulated by MassLive's Scott Coen.
A two game suspension is nothing more than a slap in the face, no pun intended, to all players and coaches in our area.
Sharvin Sands is the latest player caught on video behaving badly. But any athlete who deliberately hits an opposing player should be suspended for the rest of the season.
Commerce Principal Paul Nycz released a statement regarding the incident that said the two game suspension, 'sends a strong message that aggressive behavior of any kind is not tolerated'.
In this case Commerce acted within the letter of the MIAA law, and lost a great opportunity to send a strong message to its student-athletes about what constitutes proper behavior.
This was an unfortunate incident for all of us who follow high school sports.. It was also a missed opportunity, a teaching moment, for all the kids who play sports in [Western Massachusetts].
While Sands' actions left a lot to be desired in the dignity department, those of his principal were equally insensitive, particularly given the length of time that Mead has been forced to miss. How can any principal argue that a two-game suspension -- a ban which lasted less than a full week over the busy holiday basketball period -- sends a strong message? To say that is stretching the truth is perhaps an extreme understatement.
Yet, that punishment was perfectly within the realm of the law in Massachusetts, and it's created a scenario where a teenager -- in all likelihood a perfectly good kid, at that -- who made a bad mistake learns that he can get away with it with minimal consequences, in large part because he's a talented athlete.
That's not the kind of message that needs to be sent to any teens, especially when the person most hurt by an athlete's mistake is forced to sit and watch on the sideline of no fault of his own.