Parpan Column: No, it’s never OK to curse out teens

St. Anthony's High School rowers during the annual Snowflake Regatta, which this year made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)
St. Anthony’s High School rowers during the annual Snowflake Regatta, which this year made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

My wife and I were at a local restaurant the other night. The family of four sitting next to us was finishing dessert when a busgirl, who appeared to be around 14 or 15, let a glass of water slip from her hand. It didn’t splash anybody and no one appeared to be hurt, but it was an inconvenience for a few of the surrounding tables as the water spread across the floor and needed to be cleaned up.

What surprised me most about the incident was how the mother at the table, who appeared to be in her 40s or 50s, reacted to the spill. 

“You assholes,” she yelled at the staff who came over to help clean up. “You’ve ruined the meal for my kids.”

Actually, I just made up the previous story. So there was no fallout from this woman’s behavior. But what if it were true? How would that woman be dealt with?

I’m certain a manager would have come to the table to deal with the problem and the family might have been asked to leave. I suppose it’s possible that if this aggressive behavior continued, the local police might even have been called.

While the scene at the restaurant never occurred, the woman’s words were borrowed from the very true story of a video that went viral this week and was filmed at last week’s Snowflake Regatta in Riverhead. The video was edited to reflect highlights from the event — or lowlights, really.

In the video, parents can be heard yelling at a group of novice boaters who appear stuck and are blocking others on the course from passing them in the race.

One mom takes things to another level.

“You assholes,” she shouts. “You ruined it for them.”

While many believe it’s OK to heckle professional athletes — something I’ve never bought into, mainly because I’m not spending big bucks to go yell at a bunch of strangers — sports fans these days seem to think it’s perfectly fine to rip amateurs.

Nowhere else would someone stand up at a public event and call a teenager an asshole. Just imagine if a person did that at a school play, a concert or a dance recital.

Somehow, once sports are involved people think it’s OK to be, well, an asshole.

When I first saw the video in question, I was in disbelief. That was due partially to my past experience covering the Snowflake Regatta and knowing that it was not indicative of what I remember about the race. But I was also swayed by several misconceptions about the video.

Watching it the first 1,200 times I thought for sure a teenage girl fell into the water and spectators were yelling for her teammates to continue on. When I showed the video to friends, they all thought the same thing.

“Keep going,” one woman yells after the girl appears to go overboard. “Get to the line. You’ll beat them.”

After I tracked down the woman who shot the video, Mary Kay O’Shaughnessy of Riverhead, I learned that wasn’t the case. The girl did not fall into the water and she wasn’t hurt. When I looked at the results, I noticed her team actually did win the race.

Much of the criticism concerning the video has been directed at Ms. O’Shaughnessy, who many web commenters have said should never have shared it; the race organizers at East End Rowing, who some have suggested put the teens in harm’s way; and the parents who can be heard yelling in the background.

I do believe Ms. O’Shaughnessy when she says she never expected the video to go viral, but I also think she should have pulled it from YouTube once it did. Instead, she licensed the video, which could put her in a position to profit from a laugh or two million at these novice rowers’ expense.

I don’t know enough about the sport to comment on whether teens were put in actual danger, but it’s been my impression that it’s a well-run event — and most sports do come with risk of injury. I do, however, hope East End Rowing will look at the content of the video and find ways to improve the regatta next year.

The part of the video that still really bothers me a week after first viewing it is the conduct of the parents.

Even if the girls in the boats that appeared stuck did ruin the race for others, who cares? It’s a novice boat race on a Sunday morning in Riverhead, not the America’s Cup.

I also have a suggestion for the man in the video who can be heard yelling, “How can you not get the boat out of the way?”

How about you round up a dozen of your closest friends and go for a race? I’ll be on the riverwalk with my iPhone and a YouTube account. One million views, here I come.

grantCMYKGrant Parpan is the executive editor of TimesReview Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8046.