ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 18, 2016 ON HUFFINGTON POST.
The media has been reporting
extensively on what the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance
project has dubbed the "Trump Effect": the fear and anxiety which the
President-elect's campaign rhetoric - and his policy pronouncements, especially
regarding immigrants and Muslims - appears to be engendering among Latino, Hispanic,
African-American, and Muslim children, immigrant children, and children of
immigrants, and the bullying, intimidation, slurs, and threats which appear to
be increasingly directed at them.
While bullying has a long and sordid
history in American classrooms, a November 7, 2016 article
in The Nation asserts that the current surge is notable in two respects,
both for the similarity of its targets - Muslim students, immigrants and
children of immigrants, children of color, girls, and Jews - and the language
used against them, leading some educators to suggest a link to Donald Trump and
the "degraded course of this election season."
Much of the evidence that more
students are being bullied, harassed, or even physically threatened or
assaulted because of their immigration status, ethnicity, religion, disability,
sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, is explicitly anecdotal. But the
stories "leave little doubt that the [Trump] effect is real and on the
upswing," argues the Nation article.
Sadly, it appears that the Trump
Effect isn't just being felt in the nation's classrooms. It's also seems to be
playing out in my domain of youth sports.
According to a story published on the
website, OnlyNews.com, the weekend after the election, a girl's volleyball team
from Archer City, TX (about 2 hours north of Dallas) was playing against a team
from Fort Hancock ISD in Snyder, TX (a town on the Texas/Mexico border which
happens to be 97 percent Hispanic) when students from Archer City starting
chanting "Build a Wall!" and holding up Trump/Pence signs, along with large
flags emblazoned with the phrase "Come and Take It!" - a reference to the
Battle of Gonzales, the first military battle during the Texas Revolution with
The Archer City Superintendent, C.D.
Knobloch, subsequently apologized to the students and community of Ft. Hancock,
saying that "appropriate action" was being taken to address the offensive
language. Knobloch nevertheless claimed his students weren't racists, and that,
but for the election, the incident "wouldn't have happened," and that "every
effort would be made to ensure this doesn't happen again."
While accepting Archer City's
apology, Fort Hancock Superintendent Jose Franco said that what bothered him
the most was that was "no adults, no officials did anything about it while the
match was going on. We come from a very competitive district where there's
plenty of trash talk and that's just part of the game, having fun with it, but
this is the first time it has ever crossed the line." (By the way, Fort Hancock
lost the game. Whether the loss had anything to do with the intimidating racist
crowd, it probably didn't help the team focus on playing their best).
Tip of the iceberg?
Unfortunately, if my experience is
any guide, the Archer City/Fort Hancock story may be just the tip of a very
large iceberg. Since Election Day, I have fielded an incredible number of phone
calls and received countless emails from sports parents reporting incidents of
discrimination and bullying against immigrants, African-Americans, Jews, and
LGBT youth by teammates and coaches. Here are just some of the incidents which
have been directly reported to me:
- A coach's son allegedly informed a
boy of Mexican heritage during tryouts for a middle school boy's basketball
team that his father would not being selecting him for the team because he
could only pick fifteen boys and didn't want to waste one of his picks on a boy
who he was sure was going to be sent back to Mexico.
- A teenage girl of African heritage
was not invited to an impromptu pizza party and movie night for her age-group
track team this past weekend to celebrate Trump's election.
- An African-American boy trying out
for his middle school basketball team was alleged to have been cut by the coach
after he asked the players to stand in a line tallest to shortest and by race,
and then excused all but one black player from participating in the actual try-
- Coaches in one Southwest sports
league were allegedly told that they might not be able to continue coaching if
they could not provide documentation of their immigration status, and that,
until such proof was furnished, their kids would not be able to play.
- After Election Day, a transgender
girl on a high school cheer squad was allegedly subjected to repeated taunts by
her teammates for wearing an "I'm With Her" t-shirt, teasing the coach
reportedly refused to do anything to stop.
- A Jewish father reported that a
swastika was scrawled on a locker at his child's away game.
- An African-American boy was
reportedly punched in the head by teammates on his high school football team
and subjected to hate speech, while game officials and coaches allegedly looked
the other way.
While I haven't been able to
independently verify whether any of these incidents actually occurred, I do
know that the parents who called me were genuinely anguished. They were truly
heartbreaking for me to hear, especially as I have spent a great deal of my
time and effort over the past 25 years, first as a youth sports coach and
administrator and, for the last 16 years as a sports safety educator, fighting
to keep kids safe, not just from physical injury, but from emotional, psychological,
and sexual injury and abuse.
What I found most disturbing about
such reports is the number that involve either discriminatory behavior by
coaches or their failure to do anything to stop it. "Although plenty of
coaches use affirming and encouraging coaching styles, bullying behavior such
as demeaning, shaming, and name-calling remains a common aspect of coaching in
sports at any level," notes Nancy Swigonski, a physician at Indiana
University School of Medicine and the author of a 2014 article on bullying by
coaches in the journal Pediatrics.
As evidence, she pointed to a 2011
study in the United Kingdom which found that three-quarters of the 6,000 young
adults ages 18 to 22 years interviewed about their experiences in sports
earlier in adolescence reported at least 1 incident of emotional harm playing
sports, one third of whom identified their coach as the main source of harm,
and to a 2005 study - one which I cited in my 2006 book, Home Team Advantage
(Harper Collins), and in articles adapted from that book for
MomsTEAM.com - finding that 45% of children reported verbal misconduct by
coaches, including name-calling and insulting them during play.
Perhaps because the damage inflicted
in children who are subject to bullying, or to racial, religious, homo- or
transphobic, or ethnic slurs or epithets or threats while participating in
youth sports is not obvious, like sexual abuse, or immediately apparent, like a
physical injury, its effect is often overlooked and minimized. But the damage
is no less real, and, in fact, may be much more long-lasting.
Children involved in sports often
make strong connections and develop a special trusting relationship with their
coaches and instructors, and if the coaches' power is abused, children can
suffer severe psychological injuries that may last a lifetime. In a 2004 study
of emotional abuse of elite child athletes in the United Kingdom, for instance,
athletes reported that the abuse by their coaches created a climate a fear and
made them feel stupid, worthless or upset, lacking in self-confidence, angry,
depressed, humiliated, fearful and hurt, and left long-lasting emotional scars.
Preventing abuse: proactive adults needed
Fortunately, from working with
sports programs and talking with thousands of parents and coaches from all over
the United States and around the world for the past 16 years, and as the head
of one of only two U.S. sports organizations participating as a founding member
of global coalition of sports organizations committed to implementing the International Safeguards for Children
in Sport, spearheaded by Unicef UK, I know that there are a number
of steps sports programs can take right now to try to prevent the kind
of bullying, teasing, and taunting against Latino, Hispanic, African-American,
and Muslim athletes, immigrant children, and children of immigrants that we are
seeing from occurring in the first place:
Establish written codes of conduct. After two years of work with our global partners, MomsTeam
Institute/SmartTeams has issued guides for viewing on the
web and for downloading and printing, for organizations working to implement
the International Safeguards and for anyone supporting or governing
organizations working with children, including guidelines for creating codes of
conduct for staff and volunteers, children and young people, and parents and
Be role models. Adult stakeholders must pro-actively encourage children not
to bully, tease, taunt, or discriminate on the grounds of religious faith,
ethnicity or race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, or mental or
physical handicap. Every coach needs to make sure that every team event -
whether a practice, game, competition, or a team-building gathering like a
pizza party -is inclusive, and that a zero tolerance policy for abuse of any kind
is strictly enforced. If children cannot look to the nation's leaders as role
models, adults involved in youth sports, knowing that children learn by
example, need to step in.
Pay attention: Instead of dropping their kids off for practice, parents
should stick around if they can; they should encourage their kids to report
inappropriate behavior by teammates or coaches - whether it is "locker room
talk" demeaning of women or girls, or anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant comments or
behavior - regardless of whether it is directed at a teammate or not, and made
to feel safe in doing so; they should pay attention to a coach's behavior at
practices and games to make sure they are not participating in or tolerating
bullying, teasing or abuse of any kind.
Report bullying. Allegations of abuse or discrimination of any kind cannot
go unchallenged, unrecorded, or unreported. Such behavior, whether by a coach
or a team member, should be reported immediately to school or league officials.
Impose penalties for abuse. Coaches should face consequences for verbal misconduct
including demeaning, name-calling, and insulting young athletes.
Establish expectations at a
pre-season meeting. When I was coaching boys' soccer, I
held a meeting before every season for
parents and players at which I set behavioral expectations. Before every practice
and game, I reminded players that they would be benched for one week if they
directed any kind of abuse toward a teammate, including name calling, shaming,
hazing, bullying, or taunting. By constantly reinforcing the values of good
sportsmanship and respect towards teammates and opponents, I was able to mold
one of my teams into one which ended the season by winning a sportsmanship
trophy and becoming sportsmanship ambassadors to a soccer tournament in
Now, perhaps more than ever, I
believe that coaches, parents, and student-athletes need to actively reject
hate talk, bullying, and discrimination in order to keep sports a safe place
for our student-athletes and send the message that hate and intimidation simply
have no place on the playing fields of our nation.
Brooke de Lench is Executive Director of MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins), and Producer/Director/Creator of the PBS documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making High School Football Safer." She can be reached by email @ delench@MomsTeam.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @brookedelench.