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Who Is Snapping Pictures of Your Child?

Technology has its downsides

The First Thing We Lose Is Trust

Youth sports photography used to be such a simple thing. One or two parents would snap a team photo. If you were lucky, the neighborhood paper would send a photographer and your team would get a little publicity. Those were the days.

Now, it seems like every person at a youth sports contest is a photographer. I've run middle school championships where more than half of the spectators run onto the field to get that all-important championship team photo. High school contests are a bit easier - a lot of spectators are snapping pictures, but the increased formality (and security) makes it a bit easier to keep the spectators in the stands.

Every now and then, I notice somebody who just doesn't look they belong. They're not from one of the usual papers, and their camera just seems a bit too nice for a parent. They look kind of like an out of place professional photographer. Who knows? They might even be an out of place photographer.

In February 2008, a Sacramento Bee photographer was arrested and charged with felony possession of child pornography. His so-called crime? He was taking photos of cheerleaders at a cheerleading competition. This does not sound inherently pornographic; however, it seems that the cheer parents and team organizers keep an eye out for people who look out of place and are snapping photos. The photographer hadn't identified himself. He sure wasn't on duty for the Bee. Nobody stepped forward to say they were buying photos from him. He didn't appear to have relatives in the competition. So, what in the world was he doing? It could be something innocent, but ... maybe not. In our high tech world, the first thing we lose is trust.

We're 99% Pure - But That 1% Can Be Brutal

The truth is that we want to promote youth and high school sports so we need the local papers and the high school and youth sports shows to come out and shoot. We also know that schools have commercial photographers, high schools have team photo sponsors and action photo sponsors. We know that the ubiquitous camera phones means that half the gym can get a pretty decent photo.

We generally assume that all the people taking these photos have benign intentions, and we're probably right 99% of the time. We also assume that once we post the photos on the Internet, they'll be used and viewed for a benign purpose. Again, we're probably right 99% of the time. The problem is the rare 1%.

In the past year, I've seen two fairly high profile situations where photos taken at high school competitions ended up on the Internet in decidedly non-athletic settings. In May, 2007, someone uploaded a picture of California high school pole vaulter Allison Stokke adjusting her hair at a track meet, and appended a sexual caption. This led to hundreds - if not thousands - of pictures of her being plastered all over the Internet. In another instance, photos of a California water polo team ended up on an Australian porn site. Well - that 1% might be rare, but it sure isn't fun.