Youth sports often provide special moments. Even if one’s child or relative isn’t a star player, it can be exciting to see that boy or girl on the court, on the field, in the pool or on the track. Those years can pass by too quickly, but the memories that linger for families can be golden.
Sometimes, though, those memories are spoiled. Someone from the stands shouts language intended to insult a player because of his or her skin color or background. Or someone taunts a young player, entering or leaving the field of play, with a racial slur or other hurtful words.
Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt notes how discouraging it is for his staff when his department receives reports about the hostility some people display at sports events or in school toward people whose background differs from their own.
Blomstedt addressed the issue at a conference of about 1,000 Nebraska school leaders in 2018. “I ask you to challenge derogatory comments about our students,” he told the audience. “Challenge those. Don’t let those stand.”
The Westside school district is taking a stand, and its new policy sets an example that other Nebraska school districts should adopt. The policy, approved unanimously by the board, applies to students, coaches, advisers and volunteers in the district participating in extracurricular activities and programs, starting this upcoming school year.
Any person who uses hateful language or engages in any act against or directed toward a person based on that person’s sex, race, ethnicity, background, religion, gender or sexual orientation will be subject to immediate suspension from the activity. In addition, the offender’s participation in an activity can resume only after he or she completes an anti-hate and anti-bias education program approved by the district.
Westside officials will talk to the district’s students, before sports activities resume, about the importance of showing respect to competitors and teammates.
Westside at this point appears to be alone among Nebraska school districts in setting these requirements. School leaders across the state would do well to study the policy and adopt it. This issue has hung over Nebraska schools for years, with little clarity and specific guidance from districts and organizations on how to handle the problem. The Westside policy provides a template for moving forward.
We unfortunately live in a culture where the easy insult, the petty remark, is all too common. That’s especially the case in the social media universe where so many young people spend much of their time. Pettiness and negativity harm an individual’s character and burden our society. Young people need guidance away from that temptation.