Discriminatory Trash Talk Banned in NJ High School Sports
Some high school athletes in New Jersey are learning the value of sportsmanship the hard way: from the sidelines.
New Jersey has become the first state to adopt a strict no-tolerance policy against discriminatory trash talk, and with other state athletic associations watching, it could be just the first of many.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) worked with the state attorney general and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights to develop tough penalties for “harassing conduct related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or religion.”
Under the new rules, game officials will carry lists of banned words, and can eject players and coaches on the spot for using discriminatory language. Offenders will also be disqualified from the next two scheduled events or, in the case of football, from the next game. The violations are logged by the NJSIAA, which may report them to the state Division on Civil Rights for further investigation.
Laying Down the Law
NJSIAA assistant director Larry White said that 20 students had been disqualified under the policy as of Sept. 23, including one student who used a racial slur.
“We’re trying to make a bold statement that there is no place for it,” White told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“We’re not accepting it [even] if the n-word is used between two kids of the same race on the same team. We’re taking a stand.”
The policy also extends to spectators, who are now read a statement about prohibited language at the beginning of every event.
Necessary Step or Excessive Regulation?
The new policy came about in the wake of a notorious 2012 Thanksgiving game between two Catholic high schools, in which spectators directed orchestrated racial taunts against specific players and coaches.
Mike Gatley, athletic director at Mainland Regional High School in Linwood, N.J., told the Press of Atlantic City that he thought the new penalties were needed.
“We’re read sportsmanship statements before games, but it has a little more teeth when it comes from the NJSIAA,” Gatley said. “It coming from the top really helps us as athletic administrators.”
But New Jersey attorney Marc Leibman tells Lawyers.com that the policy is “yet another example of too much government regulation.”
“It will do little to regulate the behavior of fans and is overly punitive towards students,” Leibman said. “High school athletes are little more than children and prone to errors in judgment. These childhood errors will now potentially become civil rights violations. In an era of scarce government funding it is a waste of public resources to enforce a moral code every time a young person makes rude and crude comment.”
Leibman said the policy could even encourage athletes to strategically taunt their competitors into making discriminatory comments, adding, “we will just have to see how it is implemented in practice.”
State Could Become Policy Model
Other state associations governing high school sports are also waiting to see what effect the new rules will have, according to Theresia Wynns, director of sports and officials education at the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“Other states are following it closely,” Wynns told Reuters. “People are waiting to see what happens at the end of this year. It could definitely serve as a model.”
What do you think about New Jersey’s new rule banning discriminatory language? Is it a commonsense policy or regulation gone overboard? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.