Beginning in September, at high school sporting events in New Jersey, telling opponents they "throw like a girl" could be a civil rights violation that ends up on the desk of the attorney general as part of a new policy announced Wednesday by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
According to reports by News 12 New Jersey:
Participants could be in trouble if they make harassing statements related to gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or religion. Referees would also be required to report incidents for possible further investigation.
The change would expand existing NJSIAA rules covering "unsportsmanlike conduct" for student athletes. Currently, anyone who found to be acting in an unsportsmanlike manner in a game is suspended for the next game. Under the new policy, violations would also be reported to the state's attorney general's office and possibly investigated as a civil rights violation.
There are concerns that the new "anti-trash talking" policy will add layers of government on top of an already substantially complex system within the state. New Jersey currently has an Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights for schools and school-age children. It was enacted in 2011, and is fairly comprehensive. The law covers:
“any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic…"
The New Jersey law also appears to take dominion over everything a student does, says, or writes -- everywhere. The anti-bullying bill of rights states that violations may take place:
- on school property
- at any school-sponsored function
- on a school bus
- off school grounds
The extension of the law to "off school grounds" has some experts wondering if the law encroaches on parental rights.
The existing law requires that all public schools must:
- Appoint an anti-bullying specialist (not a new staff member, just added duties to someone like a guidance counselor).
- Name a "school safety team" - appointed by the principal and given "professional development opportunities."
- Hold a "week of respect" during the first week of October. (Students will receive annual training on respect and dealing with bullying.)
- Alert students of the anti-bullying rules via email, at the start of every semester.
- Send regular reports to the state so the schools can be graded on their anti-bullying performance. (The grades are required to be posted on a school's website.)
Was the new policy needed? Could taunting and trash talking at sporting events rise to the level of civil rights issue?
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Follow Mike Opelka on Twitter -- @stuntbrain