Thoughts Behind NBBA Code Of Conduct

by Kevin Burton

   Last Friday on Page 7 we had some fun with the National Beep Baseball Association’s code of conduct policy.

   I turned the clock back to a time even before my playing days and talked about brawls among Chicago teams.  But the incidents weren’t limited to the Windy City.

   Former teammate Debbie Brummer tells me entire teams have been thrown out of hotels in the old days when they had tournaments in South Dakota.  She didn’t say what got them thrown out and it’s better that way, don’t you think?

   So it was more code of the west than code of conduct. Players from our generation smile at the very thought of a conduct policy for beep baseball.

   But there is a whole generation of younger beepballers, that has no knowledge of those old days and perhaps no interest in them.   So for discussions of ethics and codes of conduct, maybe I should at least spend some time preaching from what Flip Wilson used to call “the church of what’s happening now.” 

   And isn’t it like me to invoke the name of a 60s and 70s comic in talking about the newer generations? 

   Anyway the newer players are surely more interested why the policy is in place and what it means for their beepball future.

   For that I turned to Doug Van Duyne. He is the coach of the Minnesota Millers and also the chair of the NBBA Ethics Committee.  He knows what’s happening now.

    But first, a little history.

    The Paralympic games were held in London in 2012. My friend who lives about 90 minutes by train southeast of London asked me at the time, “Why isn’t beep baseball in the Paralympics?”

   Long story. At some point, the leaders of beep baseball and the leaders of the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA), which governs just about everything else in athletics for the blind, had some talks. The talks did not go well.

    I wasn’t there for that and I don’t have those details. But I have felt first hand, the frosty cold aftermath. 

   I can’t recall what I was trying to accomplish, but I reached out to the man who was then leading USABA with some idea. As soon as I told him I was a beep baseball guy, that conversation essentially ended.  He didn’t hang up on me but he might as well have. 

    That was a door closed so firmly that I never bothered knocking again.

   So USABA and the NBBA have carved out separate paths in blind sports. The USABA path has been paved with a lot more sponsorship and official recognition, such as alignment with the United States Paralympic Committee.

   The sport of beep baseball is being played at incredibly high levels these days. It is primed for an international market. But to get ready for that close up, it must smooth out its rougher edges, perceived or actual.

   That is part of the reason behind the code of conduct policy. 

   Van Duyne describes it as “trying to polish up who we are and position us to be a more legitimate international presence.”

   “When the board decided it wanted a code of ethics I looked, and the Paralympics had a code of ethics. Then I looked and USABA had a code of ethics,” Van Duyne said. “Wouldn’t you know it, they were exactly the same.”

   So with a few wording changes, the board adopted that policy. “The things that were relevant to our group we left in and those that weren’t we took out,” he said.

   Van Duyne points out that even aside from thoughts of making the game more global, having a code of conduct makes the NBBA much more attractive to sponsors.         

   He also makes the distinction that players are merely acknowledging that they saw the league-mandated code of conduct and are aware of it.  He said they are not signing it per se.

   “I was adamant about that,” he said.

   The policy is “a living document” Van Duyne said, and may need to be tweaked to address ongoing issues such as bullying on social media and wording on marijuana, as more and more states legalize the drug. 

   The deadline to acknowledge the code of conduct policy passed June 1. But Van Duyne said teams adding new players should tell the league what players are being added and that those players will get the opportunity to acknowledge the code. 

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Kevin. Michael Byington here. First of all, I enjoyed your article on the NBBA Code of conduct. As you know, I edit “The KABVI News,” Magazine of the Kansas Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired. I have used an article or two from your BLOGs before, and, as I recall, you have given me permission to use other items as long as you are given credit as noted in your copywrite statement, which of course I do. As it has been a while sense I have used anything of yours, however, I thought I should ask specifically again. May I use your NBBA Code of Conduct piece?

    Now I will respond to the article as an old, old beep baseball player who played the sport in the early early days when people such as Debbie Brummer, whom you quoted in your piece, were first playing the sport. I started playing beep baseball in the mid 1970s.

    My first impression of baseball players took place back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when I was in high school. I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and back in those days, a major money making event for the City was the hosting of a minor league baseball congress tournament each year. I had a summer job in downtown Wichita in 1971, and the guys playing in that tournament pretty well took over downtown Wichita. I observed that the main interests of many of those players outside of the baseball field seemed to be to drink lots of alcoholic beverages, have sex with as many women as they could find, and get into a rumble once in a while. They were probably smoking lots of marajuana too, but that was done a little more quietly, so I was not aware of it.

    In any case, when i started traveling with a team to beep baseball tournaments, that is just what I thought baseball players were supposed to do. Blind or sighted, that just seemed to be part of playing baseball. I am sure I did my share of flirting and drinking, but I never trashed a hotel room, never tried to force my attention on any female, and I did not fight. I thus was not a part of the teams or activity that Debbie brummer was referencing, although I certainly have some of the same memories that she does. I suppose the fact that beep baseball was somewhat co-ed made the sexual exploits more convenient, although, given that there were more guys than gals playing at the time, I think many of the females playing felt like they had a big beeping target plastered to their girly bits.

    Personally, I have never liked codes of conduct. The American Council of the Blind (ACB) also recently adopted a Code of Conduct. I opposed it on the convention floor, but I was in a decided minority. I have worked most of my career in various human service positions. I recall when the old Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS, now DCF) imposed a code of conduct on its employees and contracted workers starting in the early 1990s. This code was so strict that a worker could not even have one cocktail with someone who was a client of the agency or had been a client within the past five years. A worker could not invite any person holding that status to their home for a meal or really have any kind of friendship with them. As the blindness community is a rather small subset, these rules, if completely observed, basically could prohibit a worker who was blind or visually impaired from having any friends or lovers who shared their disability. I continue to believe that people should be able to control their behavior sufficiently so as to not require their employer, contracting entities, professional associations, clubs, or recreational association to tell them what is and is not appropriate behavior. I suppose I cringe in part also because it seems as though some non-disabled people assume that it is their responsibility to supervise people with blindness or other disabilities well into and throughout their adult years just as though such folks will always remain children in need of such looking after.

    I realize, however, that the fact is, I am in a shrinking minority in holding these views. Almost every public organization, entity, or accommodation seems to be developing codes of conduct. Apparently, a few people stepping far over the line has to result in strict governence for everyone.

    So in summary, I am being pulled kicking and screaming into the code of conduct world. I think most codes are intrusive and enforcement of them violates individual rights of privacy. I think that all of us should be able to be a little ornery from time to time, and should have a personal sense of what lines should not be crossed. The fact that an increasing segment of our society does not seem to be able to set such personal boundaries has caused us to justify making up sets of seemingly positive rules, and to tell participants in activities that they must adhere or be banned from participation.


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