The West Broadway Youth Outreach (WBYO) centre held its annual hockey and basketball tournament over the weekend. The donation and volunteer-based not-for-profit has been a positive force in the West End, providing kids aged four to 13 free year-round programming for over 20 years.
As the tournament wraps up every year, joke awards are given out to participants.
Ken Opaleke, the centre’s director, said the joke awards are meant to cap off the event with a little funniness for the kids and have always been well-received. The recipient of the “cry baby” award was also sent home with a bag of diapers and a soother.
One of the boy’s family members posted a copy of the “cry baby” certificate online, which attracted the ire of many on Facebook.
Commenters called the joke unacceptable and a form of bullying.
"This child didn't 'feel' bullied, he WAS bullied. And until you realize that you don't 'get it.'" said one person on WBYO's Facebook page.
Opaleke issued an apology Sunday through the centre's Facebook page.
"I can understand how, in this instance, my humour was not appropriate and showed a lack of judgment," Opaleke wrote. "I never meant to make a child feel bad about himself. That is not how we live and work at West Broadway Youth Outreach (WBYO)."
He also promised to meet with the parents of the boy in question so that he could apologize in person. (Read the apology below.)
Joking no excuse
While some people have said online they appreciate the apology and hope the incident won’t cloud the fact that Opaleke continues to provide important programming for inner-city youth, others don't believe it's enough.
"Had it not been for social media and this going viral, how long would this 'tradition' have continued?" wrote another commenter on the centre's page.
"It was signed by two people — no one saw how hurtful this was before now? It took a group of angry people to make you see just how terribly wrong this is? How is an eight year old not to believe you are actually 'telling the whole world' what a baby he is ... #somuchforbeingasafeplace."
Amy Frank, a mother of two boys, saw the certificate on Facebook and said she felt it was inappropriate and set a bad example for kids.
"I think joke or not, it's over the line, and I think sometimes we excuse ourselves for poor behaviour by saying that we joke," said Frank. "I think there's a big difference between joking and mocking."
Mom 'disgusted' with backlash toward WBYO
But the mom of the boy sounded off on Facebook herself later Sunday, saying she was “utterly disgusted and truly embarrassed” by the way people were reacting. She said things had been blown out of proportion online and dismissed any suggestion that Opaleke be removed from the organization for his role in the situation.
“He loves these kids and does everything he can to help them make the best decisions for their future!” she wrote. “This should have never gone viral and for that I am truly sorry and will have to live with this forever.”
The mom said not only have commenters on Facebook misconstrued how the award impacted her son, the attention has also made her son sad, uncomfortable and scared to show his face in WBYO again.
“Now my son is crying in his room with fear that he will never be able to set foot in WBYO, that he will never be able to see Ken and the rest of the amazing volunteers and that he will be judged for this exploding over the God damned internet!,” she wrote.
“I will always and forever be #teamken #teamwbyo. Shame on you all! None of you are perfect, don’t forget that … [By the way my son’s] self-esteem is just fine!"
The mom said she regretted ever giving family members permission to post the certificate online.
Another woman claimed in the same thread on the WBYO page that her son received the award last year.
"He loves it. If someone takes something like that the wrong way when [it's not [meant] to to be hurtful then that's a shame, because [it's] all meant for fun."
Read the apology from Ken Opaleke below.