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A Gusty Move


“Coaches Key To Anti-Hazing: Knowing pulse of team touted amid New Jersey fallout.” USA Today, October 10, 2014

A Gusty Move

To cancel the remainder of the football season for the Sayreville War Memorial High School (New Jersey) is a gutsy move. In this era of football fervor these coaches and administrators did the unthinkable. I don’t pretend to know the facts of this particular case of hazing. What I do know is that based on the comments from the coaches it appears that there was a culture of bullying and inappropriate behavior that had become “normative” within the team and the locker room. Seven high school students were also arrested October 10 for acts of “sex crimes amid a hazing investigation” from the high school. And, just as the state was beginning to recognize National Bullying Prevention Month through a “Week of Respect,” the events of this story became public.

It’s been a rough several months for football in general. From the pros, to college, to high schools, attention is heightened about the manner in which athletes are treating those in lesser power situations. Domestic abuse, horrible vulgar language at the college level, new rules in the NFL about fouls for online language for players using racial slurs or other forms of abusive language have all been in the news. And, then these acts of bullying and hazing at the high school level have shined a light on the necessity of education and awareness as well as leadership within all sports teams.  New norms needs to be established … not just for football teams but for all sports teams.

It is a privilege to be an athlete. I was one. My adult children were excellent athletes … one played Division I soccer, the other unable to continue football at the collegiate level due to serious back injuries. Like it or not athletes are looked upon as models of strength and leadership in our culture. Not just football players, but all athletes. Whether it’s the NFL, college, high school, or middle school locker rooms, or in Junior Pro athletic leagues, bullying prevention is everyone’s business. It’s also the business of those tasked with leading these organizations to set high expectations and standards for those in their charge.  That’s why the prevention of abuse in all its forms is so important.

For me, it’s much more than bullying that needs to be addressed. The way we treat each other in general is at the very core of preventing bullying, hazing and harassment. And, the way we treat each other has everything to do with the development of emotional intelligence and the responsibilities of leadership. That’s why I am so excited to be part of an organization that is doing so much to help address student athletes in high schools and middle schools across the United States. Through our MOVE2STAND (M2S) program, student athletes and leaders are being trained to speak up, speak out and stand up for good in their schools. Not just to stop bullying, but to foster environments where the norms are based on care for everyone, where empathy and respect for the uniqueness of every individual in the school is highly valued. Through our BEE A FRIEND Campaign students are being challenged to change the world one friend at a time. Challenging students to reach out and befriend others is at the core of building a culture of kindness and compassion in schools. These exciting efforts provide all students an opportunity to not just lead on the field or in the gym or rink, but also in the halls, cafeterias, classrooms, busses, and locker rooms. M2S and BEE A FRIEND are working to bring about a climate of compassion and kindness for everyone!!!

The leadership at Sayreville took a bold, gutsy stand in the face of what had to be enormous pressure concerning our nation’s love of the game. I believe they made the right call. They set an example for everyone … enough is enough and this business of prevention is everyone’s business! As our young men and women step up and are being challenged to speak out on these critical issues, the norms will change – not simply for the here and now but for years to come.

Photo Credit: Andrew Mills