Legal Concerns, Sport Safety

New Anti-Bullying Law in New Jersey Puts Greater Pressure on Coaches, Athletic Directors

On September 1st, the nation’s toughest anti-bullying law went into effect in the state of New Jersey. In short, coaches, teachers, and administrators in all public schools in New Jersey are now legally bound to not only report any bullying incident they see in school, but they are also obligated to make sure that all of their student-athletes behave in the locker rooms and also when they go online away from the practice fields.

In short, the law – whose passage is attributed to the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers freshman whose privacy was violated online — is meant to try and break the cycle of bullying and hazing in schools. And by all accounts, it’s a significant and well-intended law.

But as law professor Doug Abrams and I discussed on Sunday AM, there are some open-ended questions about this law. For example, does this mean that coaches really have to make sure that their athletes aren’t posting offensive stuff online? Are the coaches responsible for kids and their behavior away from school?

Do coaches and teachers now carry legal laibility if a hazing incident takes place? And most of all, aren’t parents supposed to teach their children not to bully or pick on other kids? Why is this now the legal domain of coaches and teachers? Is that fair?

And there are other questions. If the head coach of, say, a girls’ basketball team is a male, how is going to be able to see what happens in a locker room when he’s not allowed to be in there?

Doug Abrams points out that ever since the Columbine HS tragedy from a decade ago, more and more schools are paying attention to the everyday bullying that goes on in school. And that’s certainly a good thing. The truth is, a lot of the so-called “jockocracy” – athletes who tend to strut about and pick on the other kids in school — are the ones who tend to perpetuate this problem. Ideally, this new law will break the cycle of bullying and hazing in schools. As noted, the law still needs to be polished and refined a bit, but overall it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It’s just too bad that one more burden is now placed upon our teachers and coaches.