Vail Daily column: When did affection become a crime?
December 24, 2013
"What's love got to do with it, got to do with it?" — Tina Turner
Well, not much, apparently.
The question posed, before I explain, is when, in this land of liberties and freedoms, did we become so darn PC?
An anecdote first, and then I'll fill you in.
When my boys were tykes, I coached Little League baseball and a little basketball as well. For most of the kids — 5- and 6-year-olds — it was their first experience with organized sports. Think tee-ball and herding marbles and you've got the basic concept.
I used to say, the greatest challenge at that age was to get all the fielders facing forward when a batter was at the plate, to make sure that no one was sitting down when fielding, to make sure that the gloves where on the hands instead of on the heads, and to instill discipline in the fielders so they didn't all run to first to make the play (including the left fielder) when there was a hit. There was one lovely young girl — a Ferdinand the Bull — who took right field as an opportunity to pick dandelions and relieve them of their fluff.
Think back to those halcyon days of your own youth or that of your children and you will recall that darn near every 5- and 6-year-old needs/wants a hug now and then. So, would I wrap them in a bear hug with an attaboy or attagirl? Not on your life. Not unless his/her parent was present. Why? Well, to be sure than nothing was misunderstood.
And something's lost in that.
When did we lose the commerce of our interaction with one another? When did encouraging a child — God forbid showing some affection — morph into the possibility of some sinister intent?
OK, onward now.
Hunter Yelton, who is cuter than a button, was recently suspended from school. His crime? Sexual harassment. Which led the 6-year-old to ask his mom what sex was.
Here's apparently what happened: Irrepressible Hunter, of Canon City, kissed a classmate on the hand during reading time. Apparently, the kiss was not unwelcome. No, the two did not "play doctor" in a darkened coat room. It was a simple peck to the back of the hand. Some Southern Colorado chivalry if you will. But wait, there's more. Once before, Hunter kissed the same fair damsel on the cheek. Oh my. And once he was caught "roughhousing" with the other boys.
When reached for comment, Hunter, while swinging his feet while sitting on his family couch (because, hey … they don't yet reach the floor), admitted that he was in the wrong but added, "Hey, I'm a 6-year-old boy. I have a lot of energy." The unrepentant lout!
After meeting with school authorities, the charge of sexual harassment was blissfully reduced to "misconduct." Whew.
Just A Hug?
Then there is the much more serious matter of Atlanta high school student Sam McNair.
McNair it seems — well, not really "seems"; it's all right there on close-circuit video from the school library — hugged a teacher who he thought was having a bad day. Go on now, Google the video, the hug is about as sexually charged as Snow White pecking Sneezy on his bloated schnoz.
McNair's punishment for this odious offense? Suspension for the rest of his senior year of high school, the result of which — besides raining on the parade of what should the final glory of his public school education — is to impair his chances of earning an athletic scholarship to go on to college. Sam McNair will not graduate on time.
After a hearing officer determined that McNair had violated Gwinnett County Schools' sexual harassment policy, McNair — a polite, well-spoken young man — was summarily shown the door. Don't let it hit you on the backside on your way out, son.
McNair observed that he didn't think he should be suspended for showing a fellow human being affection. "Something so innocent can be perceived as something totally opposite," he said. McNair expressed that the teacher appeared down that day and he thought a hug would help. Everyone, he supposed, can use a hug when they're having a bad day.
The hug, which was about as brief as a sneeze, touched off a firestorm. There is a petition demanding his reinstatement.
I get it, I get it; it's all about borders and lines that shouldn't be crossed. But a little human touch is the currency of human and social interaction. Ain't it?
Hey, I'm as sensitive as the next guy. I fully support a woman's (or a man's as the case may be) absolute right to be free from harassment (sexual or otherwise) or unwanted advances. But, c'mon. Have we gone nuts?
Sometimes a 5-year-old just needs a hug. Hilary was right; doesn't it most times take a village instead of some pervasive, overbearing miasma of distrust?
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of "Community Focus." Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his e-mail addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.