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Hug vs. Hands Off

Categories: Opinion

December 12, 2013

Everybody loves a hug now and then, right?

Not necessarily.

Most of us know to keep our hands off other people.  But there are many who are raised in a very loving environment where hugging and other forms of affectionate touching are common.

That may be the case for Sam McNair, a senior at Duluth High School near Atlanta, who has become the center of a controversy after hugging a teacher.

The act was captured on a security video camera.

McNair describes the hug as "something so innocent," but the teacher claims to have been sexually harassed, and filed a complaint.  A school hearing officer concluded that McNair violated the Gwinnett County Public Schools' rules on sexual harassment.  As a result, McNair was suspended.

What's interesting about this case is that McNair doesn't acknowledge the possibility that he did anything wrong.

"You know what someone's going through. A hug might help," he said in this CBS Atlanta interview.

McNair is not alone.  Those who are raised in physically affectionate families agree that hugs are good.  Even those who aren't accustomed to hugging would probably agree that it can be comforting.

Yes, a hug might help.  But the "hands off" rule trumps that possibility.  A vaccination may help, but doctors can't just go around injecting others simply because they care.  Hugs, at certain times, in certain situations, are often unwanted.  And if someone simply can't resist the temptation, he/she must be prepared to accept the consequences.

Looking at the video, McNair's actions seem to me to be innocent enough for several reasons: 1) the act is committed in the open with no apparent attempt to conceal, 2) he's wearing a backpack, which may indicate he had no intention of going further than the hug, 3) he walks away immediately after the hug, which supports the argument that he had no intention of doing anything other than a quick, friendly, affectionate hug, and 4) he does not resist the teacher's push, which appears to come after he was already moving away.

Whether the hug itself was good or bad is one thing.  Whether the punishment is appropriate, which threatens McNair's graduation and the possibility of athletic scholarships, is another.

Many believe the suspension is unwarranted, and I agree, although there is more to the story than we know.  Sloan Roach, a spokesperson for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said in a statement that hearing officers also take into consideration "a student's past disciplinary history...when determining consequences."

According to the CBS report, Sam McNair does have a discipline record and previous suspensions, but not for sexual harassment.

What do you think?  Is there a "bad guy" in this story?  If so, is it McNair?  The teacher?  The hearing officer?

"If you can't say something nice, let's hear it!"   — Joan Rivers

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