Matt Porter of the PALM BEACH POST reports Dwyer (Palm Beach, FL) high school tight end and grandson of Jack Nicklaus, Nick O’Leary, has been suspended for two games by the Florida High School Athletic Association for an obscene gesture during a game last Monday.
O’Leary, who is of the country’s top high school football prospects, made an obscene gesture in the direction of the field during Dwyer’s nationally-televised, controversial 26-22 loss to Cleveland-Glenville in the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
The FHSAA rulebook states:
126.96.36.199 Penalty for Students. Students who are found to have committed unsportsmanlike conduct will be ineligible to participate in interscholastic athletic competition for a penalty period up to one calendar year.
In a letter to Dwyer Athletic Director Tom Pagley announcing the suspension, Dr. Peggy Jones of the FSHAA also wrote, “I am sure he regrets his action and this is unfortunate for Dwyer High School as this was on national TV, but there needs to be a consequence for his action.”
Dwyer is appealing the decision, with Pagley confirming that the school is attempting to get the suspension reduced to one game. Earlier, Dwyer head coach Jack Daniels had threatened to forfeit the Panthers’ next two games, but Pagley has since ruled out that possibility.
Meanwhile, a source close to Herbstreit told me today that the ABC/ESPN college football analyst called the FHSAA this morning to lobby on O’Leary’s behalf and that he felt “awful” about the suspension.
Before the suspension was announced, Herbstreit defended O’Leary’s emotional sideline reaction on Miami radio station WQAM-AM:
“I was with a buddy of mine. He played high school football with me, and I said ‘Imagine if we flew down to Florida to play one of their better teams and we drove the last drive and scored the winning touchdown and a Florida referee looked us in the eye and said, ‘Nope.’
“And we scored another winning touchdown and a Florida referee said, ‘Nope.’ And we scored a third winning touchdown and a Florida referee said ‘Nope.’
“I’d feel like [Nick] O’Leary, too. I mean, I’d be upset, too.
“All I can say is, I apologize.
“It looked like they got in once, if not the first time, definitely the second time, and the officials don’t give them a touchdown three different times and Dwyer ends up losing and my heart just sank. Clearly, watching on TV, that’s a touchdown. To the fans of Dwyer and to their players, I am as sick about it as you are.”
The FHSAA’s decision to suspend O’Leary for two games does come off as tone deaf.
Keeping your composure in the face of bad officiating is an important part of being an effective football player. The value of sportsmanship, especially in high school, can also not be understated.
But in factoring in O’Leary’s age and the extraordinary circumstances of the game - and its staging - any sanction that included a suspension was wholly inappropriate in this particular case.