While the scandal involving the Sayreville, N.J., football team might be a local matter, the issues it raises of sports bullying and hazing awareness are national. The situation was among the topics raised at the National Federation of State High School Association’s semi-annual board meeting this week.
NFHS executive director Bob Gardner said his association’s role in the matter is education, not punishment.
“We are always concerned when you get reports of something like Sayreville,” Gardner said. “In 2012, we created a free course for coaches, Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment, that provides recommendations to coaches in areas like bullying or hazing. Unfortunately, things like this come up often. All of us who have been involved in high school sports have seen them. In a normal setting, a coach becomes aware of it and nips it in the bud. Occasionally, there’s a lack of awareness or fundamental understanding and it goes on.”
Sayreville is only the most recent example of sports bullying. Ayala (Chino Hills, Calif.) recently suspended 21 players for bullying in hazing, though all but one of those players were reinstated. Last year, Cornell canceled the remainder of its lacrosse season and fired its coach after a hazing incident. Gardner said he wasn’t sure if the incidents are becoming more common or just more likely to be reported.
“That’s a difficult question,” Gardner said. “I want to believe people are more aware of them and we’ve done a pretty good job, the NFHS, state associations and the media, of letting people know about sports bullying. If you look at the recent case in the NFL (where offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team after he reported being bullied), I think things like that have created an awareness that permeates down to the high school level. Our role is to provide education and training for coaches. You never want an incident of this type to occur. If it does occur, you hope the awareness factor is enhanced in that community and around the country.”