Racism, Misogyny and Homophobia

These three plagues not only infect our society and divide people from one another,
but they destroy team chemistry.

One of the greatest outcomes for high school student athletes has always been the interaction on a daily basis with those whose individual identities is different from their own. Over time they have learned to have meaningful conversations and get to know their teammates both on and off the court or field of play.

These exchanges of thought and information are often guided by the preconceived ideas (biases) about “others” that each has learned and acquired in their early years. These ideas are frequently passed on by the adults in their lives – the people whom they know, love and care about – and often reveal the implicit biases that “is in the air we breathe” (Beverly Tatum). In this way, a given for identifying, correcting and moving beyond our biases is to acknowledge that they exist. “We all have biases. It is the way for us to process and organize information.” (Johanna Wild)

A key role, therefore, that today’s high school coach should embrace toward the betterment of their program and school is to provide safe spaces for their athletes to learn from each other about the social world around them. Here, the opportunity to listen deeply and intently to what is being shared by another, hear their feelings beneath their words, and create a balance between listening, reflecting, speaking and acting is nurtured. This space, then, uplifts the opportunities for greater emotional learning that welcomes a practice of speaking one’s truth, while also giving space for an unpopular response. An acknowledgment of bias opens the door to hearing varying perspectives and over time has the potential to increase one’s self-awareness.

The coaches of today’s high school athletes preside over a unique cohort of different cultural backgrounds. This is a fertile ground to make the addressing of biases and preconceptions about “the other” an accepted part of the dialog on the team.

Buttressed by an Athletic Department in a high school, the culture of the individual and collective program, along with that of the greater school community, can become the bridge between ignorance and knowledge. Behaviors such as abusive shouting, written slurs, or other forms of put-downs are highlighted for what they are: another form of bullying.

The increasing number of stories nationwide about a high school team that brought together a community in the face of tragedy is awe inspiring. The demonstrating of not only sympathy, but of empathy in these, unfortunately, ever increasing incidents is testimony to a higher level of social-emotional learning in these communities. Schools are learning to prepare their athletes for the world in which they are living with others by intentionally creating and responding to scenarios where a community values and respects the rich diversity of its members.

The late Elijah Cummins believed “Diversity is not a problem, It is our promise! Today’s high school athletic programs are at the cutting edge of living out this promise by affording and expecting their athletes to have a dedicated time on each team from the season’s beginning and throughout the schedule. Head’s of Athletic Departments should themselves have a separate and ongoing cohort for their own growth and development, along with attending and being an active participant in the sessions of teams, both girls and boys.