Aiming to reduce incidents of harassment in high school athletic programs, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Mila Jasey to establish a sensitivity training program for high school athletic personnel was approved on Thursday by the full Assembly, 72-1.
“As a long time high school football coach, I’ve seen far too many students face harassment from coaches and other athletic staff,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It’s an unfortunate reality for some young athletes, particularly minority students. By increasing sensitivity training for staff and officials, I’m hopeful these incidents could be prevented in the future.”
The bill (A-4679) would require the Commissioner of Education to develop an interscholastic sports sensitivity training program for high school athletic directors, coaches and officials. It would be required to provide information on topics including but not limited to:
- Gender and sexual orientation
- Race and ethnicity
- Religious tolerance
- Unconscious bias, and;
- Diversity and inclusion
The commissioner would consult with the Division on Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety to develop the program.
The measure aims to prevent incidents of harassment such as a recent event at Buena Regional High School in Atlantic County, during which a biracial student was required to cut his dreadlocks to compete in a wrestling tournament. Andrew Johnson, a junior, was forced by a referee to cut his hair in front of his teammates in the gym prior to the competition.
“What happened to Andrew Johnson was hateful, unacceptable and intolerable,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Young athletes should never be subject to harassment by the adults overseeing their programs, especially not because of the way they look. It’s time to better educate athletic coaches, directors and officials on diversity and hopefully diffuse or stop intentional or unintentional harassment altogether.”
“No child should ever face harassment in school, particularly from adults who are supposed to look out for their well-being,” said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). “Athletes should be able to trust their coaches, and know they will be respected both on and off the field. This bill will ensure our athletic staff is trained to build and foster a culture of respect for their teams.”
Additionally, the measure directs the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to require each person who coaches a public school district or nonpublic school interscholastic high school sport, as well as an athletic director who oversees a similar high school sports program, or a referee who officiates the sporting event, to complete the sensitivity training program every four years. Each newly appointed coach or athletic director would be required to initially complete the training during his first year in that position.
The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.