Highland Park Star Basketball Player Arrested For DWI: When is a Kid No Longer a Kid?

Today’s news that the star basketball player for Highland Park High School was arrested by University Park Police for driving while intoxicated raises a couple old questions from my past life as a community newspaper publisher, editor, and reporter:

1. When should a kid stop getting treated like a kid?

2. Is a high school athlete a public figure?

I know my responses to both those questions, mostly. And we know how both People Newspapers and the Dallas Morning News would answer those questions, since both outlets today reported the arrest of the 18-year-old player, David Allen. But there are many, most especially people in the Park Cities, who feel differently. I know this because I’ve been through a similar situation before.

In 2009, Park Cities People broke the news of the DWI arrest of the Highland Park High School quarterback, Luke Woodley. At the time I was the editor and publisher of the newspaper, and was pleaded with by some members of the community not to run the story. It was argued that Woodley, though legally an adult at the time of the arrest, was “just a kid” and that to publicize an arrest – especially an arrest on a charge as stigmatized as is DWI – would cause him harm.  At the paper we felt that, since we regularly covered the football team and Woodley was going to be suspended for some games as a result of the arrest, it was our responsibility to report what we knew.  I’m still comfortable with that stance, though there were many unhappy readers that week.

But one thought did give me pause as Dan Koller and I discussed how to play the story.  DWIs aren’t usually front-page news in Park Cities People. If an adult of no particular fame or official position is arrested in Highland Park or University Park, it merely appears as yet-another item in the police blotter.  To do anything more than that in Woodley’s case was to classify a high-school student as a public figure (at least within the confines of the Park Cities).  Still, once we considered that we were talking about the quarterback of Highland Park football, the premier position on the community’s most beloved sports team, we had no trouble saying that, yes, he is a public figure.

I remember asking myself whether an obscure lineman, or the kicker, or a member of the tennis or the golf team would deserve the same treatment. I wasn’t sure, or I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my answer.  And now we’re talking about the “star” of the basketball team, not a bench player. It raises the issue all over again.

Because a kid is one of the best athletes at his school he deserves more scrutiny than other students? Yes, that seems to be the case.

Readers will always care far more about news involving starters than back-ups. Life is like that.

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