A Role for High School Athletes When Fans Resort to Slurs and Vulgarity
By Doug Abrams
Last Friday night, Catholic Memorial School downed Newton North High School, 77-73, in a hard-fought Massachusetts basketball division title matchup at Newton North High School. Catholic Memorial is an all-boys private college preparatory school in West Roxbury, and Newton North is a public school that has a large Jewish population in the community and the student body.
High school division title games usually generate few headlines outside the immediate area or the state, but this game has gained national attention. Several fans cheering for Catholic Memorial taunted their opponents with chants of, “You killed Jesus; you killed Jesus.” Catholic Memorial administrators apologized the next day. Catholic Memorial fans said that their players were taunted with chants that included “Where are the girls?,” which they viewed as anti-gay slurs.
This is not the first media report about overheated high school fans who, somewhere in the nation, cross the line between healthy partisanship and rank vulgarity. I doubt that it will be the last.
“This is not what our school stands for”
To people disturbed by media reports such as last Friday night’s, improving fan behavior will not come easily. Education and dialog in the schools might have some positive effect, and so might the specter of student disciplinary proceedings in appropriate cases.
I do not pretend to have a sure-fire response for eradicating the slurs and vulgarity that waft from the bleachers at so many high school games in various sports, but I do suggest an immediate response that might sometimes work. What if the players and coaches themselves, supported by school administrators in attendance, temporarily halted the Catholic Memorial-Newton North basketball game minutes after tipoff, moved to the microphone, and firmly told the crowd before resuming play that, “This is not what our school stands for”?
“It’s Not Fair”
I am reminded of a basketball game early last year at Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Throughout the early minutes, the eighth-grade Lincoln players saw fans in the stands verbally abusing one of their courtside cheerleaders, who has Down syndrome. The players themselves stopped the game and approached the stands to halt the maltreatment of their classmate.
“The kids in the audience were picking on [the cheerleader], so we all stepped forward,” Lincoln Middle School player Chase Vazquez said later. “We walked off the court and went to the bullies and told them to stop because that’s not right to be mean to another person,” teammate Miles Rodriguez told Fox & Friends. “It’s not fair when other people get treated wrong,” teammate Scooter Terrien explained to WTMJ-TV, because “we’re all created the same.”
Reports indicated that when play resumed, the verbal abuse stopped.
Lessons To Be Learned
Peer influence matters in the elementary and secondary schools, and athletes and coaches often hold a particular place among the student body. Rick Wolff, Brooke de Lench, Jim Thompson and others have spoken and written about the leadership role that a team can play when it acts together to counter bullying that targets vulnerable classmates. By stepping up to protect a seemingly easy target who was no match physically or emotionally for bullies, the Kenosha middle school basketball team demonstrated that these youth sports experts are on the right track.
The experts’ lessons might transcend bullying and hold an antidote to other antisocial high school fan misconduct, such as that reported from Friday night’s basketball game in Newton. Will a team’s united intervention usually work? I do not know, but I believe that this immediate intervention is worth exploring by coaches, school administrators, and the athletes themselves. The exploration can be particularly fruitful when, during the preseason, teams anticipate future issues that might stain the local sports culture.
One final thought. . . . When a news outlet reports fan excesses such as what surfaced last Friday night, some blogging readers invariably complain that the nation is drowning in “political correctness” that places slurs and vulgarity out of bounds. These readers, who suggest that victims need thick skins to “tough it out,” are the ones who are out of bounds.
Publicly slurring a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, disability, or other identifiable difference from the mainstream demonstrates disrespect for the person’s worth. In the America that we should want for ourselves and our families, respect is not “politically” correct. It is simply correct.
Sources: Evan Allen, Catholic Memorial Students Chant Anti-Jewish Taunt at Game, Boston Globe, Mar. 12, 2016; CBS News, Mass. Catholic School Apologizes For Anti-Semitic Chant, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/boston-catholic-memorial-newton-anti-semitic-chant/ (Mar. 13, 2016”; Valerie Strauss, Catholic School Supporters Say Anti-Jewish Chant at Game Followed Anti-Gay Slurs, Wash. Post, Mar. 13, 2016; Middle school basketball players defend bullied cheerleader, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/wisconsin-middle-school-basketball-players-defend-bullied-cheerleader/ (Mar. 12, 2015); Players Leave Court Mid-Game to Confront Bully of Cheerleader With Down Syndrome, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/13/players-leave-court-mid-game-to-confront-bully-cheerleader-with-down-syndrome/ (Mar. 13, 2015); Deneen Smith, Welcome to D’s House, Kenosha (Wis.) Times, Mar. 9, 2015.