Respect for everyone in high school sports and activities

  • Thursday, October 31, 2019 4:34pm
  • Opinion

By Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS executive director

Case studies have revealed that kids want to participate in high school sports because they are fun. Being a part of a team gives them an identity, a sense of self-worth and, in some cases, a reason for engaging in academics. They are included, accepted and feel like a valued member of a community.

This describes the ideal and the goal of high school sports. Fortunately, that atmosphere exists at a majority of the 19,500-plus high schools within the NFHS family. And since it is the desire of high school leadership throughout the country that these ideals continue, we are concerned about the growing decline in respect, integrity and unacceptable behavior in and around high school sports.

Racism is one of our greatest concerns nationwide. We have heard of students posting videos to social media with racist comments. We read about racial comments by team members of nearly all-white schools to opposing players from schools composed of nearly all minority students. There have been cases of white players disrespecting Native American players on the opposing team by addressing them in an unacceptable manner.

This type of behavior could be a reflection of events occurring in our society, or due to lack of a respectful environment at home. Regardless, they are not defensible reasons for the occurrence of these horrible acts within education-based high school sports and activities.

High school sports and activities exist to lift people up, not demean or tear people down. National politics or lack of role modeling by adults at home aside, coaches, administrators and other leaders in high schools nationwide must direct programs with respect, acceptance and dignity and demand the same from the school participants.

More than 50 years ago, Special Olympics began a global movement to break down barriers and end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. Since then, lives have been changed for the better all around the world. Many schools have implemented Unified programs in sports, performing arts and even physical education.

We must do the same for everyone. All student-athletes – regardless of race, religion, political views or gender identity – should be treated equally. As baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson said, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”

As schools hire individuals to fill coaching positions, character must be the top prerequisite for the job. They must be guided by honesty, integrity and ethics, and they must be positive role models for students. And this is certainly not a new idea.

H. V. Porter, the first full-time executive director of the NFHS, had the following to say in 1950: “The amount of success (in improving sportsmanship) is largely dependent on the degree to which attention is constantly given to the matter by the school staff.”

We certainly agree with Mr. Porter but also believe that everyone must pay attention. The NFHS has several free online education courses through the Learning Center (www.NFHSLearn.com) that can assist in establishing a program that teaches and models respect for self and respect for others. We suggest that “Teaching and Modeling Behavior,” “Sportsmanship” and “Bullying, Hazing and Inappropriate Behaviors” be required courses for everyone working with student-athletes.

High schools must establish a culture that values the worth of every single person – both players on the school’s team and players on the opposing team. There must be a no-tolerance policy regarding behavior that shows disrespect for another individual.

Kids today are looking for a community, and high school sports and activities must be that community that is fun, respectful and supportive of everyone.

Karissa L. Niehoff is in her second year as executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) in Indianapolis, Ind. She is the first woman to head the national leadership organization for high school athletics and performing arts activities and the sixth full-time executive director of the NFHS, which celebrated its 100th year of service during the 2018-19 school year. She previously was executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for seven years.

More in Opinion

A U.S. Marine sniper on station. COURTESY PHOTO, Don Dinsmore
See veterans as they really are

When we arrived back in the states, we were told to shed… Continue reading

Post-election, new battles loom over Eyman’s car-tab measure

OLYMPIA — Most ballots are counted, but the fight over Initiative 976… Continue reading

Impeachment aside: there’s work to be done

Now that President Trump’s impeachment process is formally underway, Democrats and Republicans… Continue reading

November is a great month to participate

November is the month when the public and media focus attention on… Continue reading

Here are 6 numbers to help decipher this election

There’s no cost to voting, but millions of dollars are getting spent to influence how ballots are cast

Let’s keep Friday nights in the fall for high school football

By Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff, NFHS executive director Some of the top… Continue reading

Does Sound Transit realize the consequences of this do-over?

Pass or fail, Initiative 976 is a reminder of what critics most dislike about the regional agency

High costs drive people to move

Too often, elected officials overlook the cumulative costs of regulations, taxes and… Continue reading

A look at the races for the state’s 9 top jobs

Nine of the most powerful political jobs in Washington state will be… Continue reading

Amateurism must be maintained to preserve education-based sports

While we addressed a number of important issues with our member state… Continue reading

King County Library System explores the artificial intelligence frontier

If asked for a show of hands in tech-savvy King County, many… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Lawmakers to governor: How dare you mess with our budget

They want Jay Inslee to halt his planned $175 million reallocation of state transportation dollars