This past week, we saw a private swim club in the Philadelphia area that ended up being accused of racism.

The reason for this is that a group of inner city minority children showed up at the club, having paid for the right to be there, and were quickly rounded up, sent back home, and had their money refunded to them without an explanation. Some of the children heard disparaging remarks coming from club members, which was uncalled for.

Initially the representative of the club came out and made a statement to explain his club's side of things, and he immediately put his foot in his mouth by saying that these kids would change the "complexion" of the club. Later on, after a week in which both the state senate and one of the senators for the state of Pennsylvania got into it, the representative came out and made a longer speech, saying his club has underestimated the capacity of their swimming pool, decided it was in the best interests to refund the money because of that, stated that they weren't racist and didn't mean to insult anyone or make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Whether anyone believes that or not (and I don't), this is an example of someone not thinking about what they wanted to say before they said it. It was also an example, if we even want to believe that they didn't know the capacity of their own swimming pool, of improper communications between the club and the organization representing the children to begin with.

I've talked about communications in both talking with other people and in writing, and the importance of trying to get it right. Often, the first message is the only chance you'll get, and even though no one is perfect, if the message that gets out is so bad that it immediately sets a tone of distrust, it's hard to turn that message around to whatever you really meant for it to be, and certainly harder to ever establish any real trust in what you have to say.

True, one doesn't always have enough time to work out the proper thing to say. In those cases, it's probably best to not say anything at all. With this club, the fallout might have been much less if the representative had just issued a "no comment". It still would have been an incident, particularly because of the comments of other club members, but it could have been mitigated somewhat by the official word saying something different than what they said.

Of course, with all the extra scrutiny, no one would have ended up believing anything this guy had to say eventually anyway.