Facebook photos land 11 athletes lengthy suspensions

Cameron Smith

Melrose is a small Massachusetts town in the Boston suburbs, and it holds small-town traditions in appropriately important roles in its day-to-day existence. Not surprisingly, school sports play a significant part in town pride and the community's daily life.

Melrose High School in Melrose, Massachusetts

And that's precisely why a recent Facebook scandal has hit the town particularly hard. According to the Boston Globe, no fewer than 11 Melrose varsity athletes were recently identified in illegal possession of alcohol or tobacco in photos which first surfaced on Facebook. The photos were taken from the site by a concerned parent, transferred to a thumb drive and submitted to the school's administration as proof of inappropriate actions by the student body.

As a result, all 11 players who were identified have been suspended from competing in athletic events for various lengths of time. All the players received some suspension, with the most heavily hit athlete forced to miss 60 percent of his or her next athletic season.

Because all the athletes are minors, their names have not been released.

"We're serious when we say that being an athlete is a privilege, not a right," Melrose Independent School District Superintendent Joseph Casey told the Globe. "It was not done as a way to even a score or to make a statement."

While Melrose athletes sign on to act by the guidelines set forth in Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules in participation forms submitted at the start of each athletic season, there is no standard set of procedures governing how to discipline actions that come off school ground, outside of school hours. That was the case with all the photos procured by the school administration, yet the Melrose ISD still felt empowered to act based on the illicit substances present in the photos shared on social media.

Casey also said that the school's administration wasn't done trying to crack down on the party culture it sees as endemic in its athletic community. The superintendent and other officials are working at identifying the house where the photos were taken. If they can, the parents whose home it was could be charged in connection with the underage possession of alcohol or tobacco.

"We are not trying to interfere with what happens outside of schools," Casey said. "[But] if you're going to represent the school we expect you to uphold that image 24/7."

Actions taken against the students reinforce the school's position on substance use among Melrose High athletes, Casey said.

"We understand that people make mistakes, but there are consequences," he said.

Clearly, that's the case in suburban Boston. The concern for other athletes across the country will come when and if other administrations begin to monitor social media with the vigor with which Melrose officials have.

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