Justice triumphed in a San Diego courtroom Monday of this week. Madison High student Chase Knox was fully vindicated by Judge Timothy Taylor’s ruling against the California Interscholastic Federation-San Diego Section (CIF), finding they acted with impunity by taking away Madison’s 2010 football championship, the team Knox quarterbacked, on false accusations Knox was an illegal resident.
You may not know this story, but seriously you should, as everyone should who cares about fairness and justice and equality before the law.
The CIF, the quasi-public governing body for local high school sports, is an authority out of control and whether its new commissioner, Jerry Schniepp has the courage to change its culture, which remains in place from the reign of Kendall Webb and Dennis Ackerman, is an open question. The CIF may have moved into new offices at the Hall of Champions in Balboa Park but the change it desperately needs is to change its operating culture and rules.
Chase Knox is the son of Michelle Knox and grandson of Dr. and Mrs. Ralph Earle. My wife and I have known Ralph and Glenda Earle since 1954, and count them among our most treasured and beloved friends. I also know Chase, and while I have many high school and college young people in my life, none is better than Chase. He’s a superb student and gifted athlete, but most of all a terrific young man.
When I learned of the actions the CIF under Dennis Ackerman was taking against Chase and his family I was outraged, and Judge Taylor’s ruling does not temper my outrage. Yes, Chase and his family won a big victory in Judge Taylor’s court, but that would never have happened save for the fact that Dr. Earle, who loves his grandson more than he loves his own life, had the financial means to hire one of the very best attorneys in San Diego, Bob Ottilie, to challenge the CIF and prove its actions were wrong.
Judge Taylor’s eloquent decision – seriously, one doesn’t normally expect this from superior court – corrects an egregious wrong, but despite the judge’s brilliantly crafted reasoning, it can’t account for tears and trauma Chase and his mother, his father and step-father, his grandparents and siblings, went through, because of an out-of-control high school governing body apparently ignorant of primary democratic principles or the rule of law put in place by the Framers of the Constitution.
As a student athlete before the CIF you have minimal rights. You are judged guilty before the fact and have little chance to prove your innocence unless you have the means to hire a smart attorney like Bob Ottilie to defend your rights. Chase Knox was lucky, but what about all the other young men and women whose lives were turned upside down because of arrogant and ethically challenged CIF officials. This is wrong. It should never happen in this country, this county, this San Diego, but it does.
The win for Chase, his teammates, and Madison High, who were also victims in this entire disgraceful case, is justice ultimately served, but it’s too late for other young athletes wrongfully accused by the CIF in the past, accusations never challenged because of insufficient resources to fight San Diego’s version of the KGB. The CIF is out of control and school officials have been derelict in their stunning failure to pay attention to what’s going on in the name of “justice” for high school athletes.
Dennis Ackerman, who for years oversaw an unfair system, has slipped off into retirement, but the culture he kept in place and the untold damage it caused young athletes and their families remains in the public record. Because no matter how manifestly unfair actions taken by the CIF the record doesn’t go away; it’s there for eternity.
But if you want to read the reasons behind the CIF’s rulings you can’t, because they publish verdicts not findings. Where else in our society would such secrecy be tolerated? Can you think of any public body so arrogant it feels no cause to substantiate its rulings? Any?
There is another aspect of this that hasn’t come to light, namely the amount of money spent by the CIF in Chase Knox’s case. A public records search shows $150,000 was paid by the CIF to its outside counsel and his investigator to prosecute Chase. This money, however, was spent before the lawsuit. Meaning, the CIF spent all of that money to damage a young man’s life even before the case goes to court. Do you get it? Where’s the outrage?
Bob Ottilie, who since 1993 has been involved in more than 100 administrative actions against the CIF attempting to protect high school athletes, has become the governing body’s worst nightmare. Other cases, including an estimated $1 million dollars spent by the CIF defending its action in the John Ryan case, another Chase Knox like victim, should have been instructive, but obviously wasn’t. Perhaps, the Chase Knox case, at last, will bring moral clarity to an organization in need of its liberating ethic.
There is also this: Judge Taylor’s ruling shows that much of the case against Chase and Madison stems from bogus email and Web attacks against him and his family; scurrilous accusations generated by supporters of Valley Center High School. It appears they were fearful Madison would beat their boys for the 2010 CIF Championship – and Madison did.
Finally, I am thrilled for Chase Knox, but saddened by all the other young athletes denied justice because the system failed them. But if it all stops here, then perhaps the pain borne by Chase and his family, will have not been in vain. And knowing Chase, that’s a trade-off he will accept, and count it worth the cost – because Chase Knox is that kind of young man.