Addressing Hate and Bias in School Sports

Type: Article
Topics: Equity, School Administrator Magazine

March 31, 2023

Educators pursue elusive answers for all-too-common disruptions in the stands and on the playing fields

In a Boston suburb, a high school ice hockey player reported being the target of homophobic and racial verbal assaults from opponents in 2021. In a separate incident, The Boston Globe reported that a group of football players beat a 14-year-old freshman teammate at Woburn Memorial High School in another Boston suburb.

In Yuba City, Calif., the superintendent abruptly ended the varsity football season last September after team members created a “Kill the Blacks” online group chat full of derogatory language and racial slurs.

Another Northern California high school last September forfeited the rest of the season after several varsity football players conducted a slave auction re-enactment, then posted a video of it on social media.

Such disturbing incidents of hate and violence on the nation’s school campuses are becoming more frequent and more widespread, pushing those who oversee interscholastic athletics nationwide, and even the attorney general in one state, to take concerted action to address them.

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Renata Birkenbuel

Freelance writer

Missoula, Mont.

Data-Driven Measurables To Grow Sportsmanship


Jared Felice (center), a high school athletic director in Fountain, Colo., believes that a culture promoting good sportsmanship can be measured in interscholastic sports. PHOTO BY LINDSEY SMITH/GAZETTE TELEGRAPH

Data are a principal factor that drives modern education. They provide school administrators with evaluative insights that can generate success in their schools and districts.

Outside of the classroom, data also can be applied to support extracurricular activities, particularly with the aim of building greater character-based sportsmanship among athletic participants — both athletes and coaches — and that of the entire school community.

In the Colorado Springs Metro League, a Class 5A conference of high schools around Colorado Springs, Colo., athletic directors of the six member schools have used sportsmanship data to build a positive team and community culture for the past five years.

To capture this sportsmanship data, athletic directors assigned to oversee certain sports for the league meet with head coaches of those respective sports at the conclusion of the playing season. Each coach is required to complete a sportsmanship ballot. The ballot provides key guidelines for them to assess and rank in order the schools whose teams exhibit the strongest sportsmanship during the season.

The guidelines for scoring include hospitality of the host school, negative and/or positive chants/cheers by spectators, implementation of a special event (e.g., Military Appreciation Night) and overall sportsmanship behaviors exhibited by the opponent’s coaches and players. When completing their ballots, coaches must provide reasoning behind their top overall choice. Ballots are submitted to the host athletic director during this meeting and votes are tallied.

Actionable Feedback

Following each season, all league athletic directors are given the sportsmanship ranking for each sport along with comments regarding their schools’ teams. Athletic directors are encouraged to use the data as actionable feedback to promote culture building. An athletic director may use the data as an evaluation element of their head coaches.

The data also serve as a key conversational topic to improve sports programs. A coach whose team received a lower ranking in sportsmanship because fan behavior was poor during a game can share the information with parents and team members to improve behavior. Programs receiving the highest rankings earn that sport’s league sportsmanship championship, which they are encouraged to celebrate in a public way.

For the athletic director, a high-performing coach whose sportsmanship data are consistently positive year after year may assign that coach to share her or his strategies with other coaches at the school toward elevating their own programs. The purpose is to grow sportsmanship throughout each school.

Supportive Culture

Regardless of how a team is perceived through the league sportsmanship rankings, the data are useful as a measurable tool by which athletic directors are afforded a “cultural gauge” of their programs. If multiple teams were not ranked highly and data across programs pointed to poor fan behavior, the athletic director should act to curb these behaviors at the spectator level.

One possible action is the removal of unruly fans from game venues following a verbal warning to fans whose behavior is detrimental to the public perception of the school. In these conversations, athletic directors must include fans as part of the school community. They are important stakeholders in shaping the overall culture of the team they support and the school itself.

The data drawn from each season’s rankings create a different form of competition among schools, contributing to a sense of public pride for those building positive sports cultures.

These competitive performance measures constitute a new item in the toolbox of athletic directors and coaches. These measures contribute to the growth of character among young and impressionable student-athletes as well as their parents and school staff alike.

Jared Felice is district/high school athletic director at Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Fountain, Colo. @FFCHSAthletics