I bet the NFL isn’t watching this too closely. A New Jersey High School has suspended its entire football season after 4 games because of substantial and credible evidence of pervasive bullying, harassment and hazing in the program, including allegations of possible sexual assault. This high school, Sayerville High School has won the state championship in its level 4 of the last 5 seasons. It also has a running streak of 20 state playoff appearances. So, this isn’t some scrub team where this action won’t be noticed.
In a news conference after he informed the players and parents, Richard Labbe said: “There were incidences of harassment, intimidation, and bullying that took place on a pervasive level, on a wide-scale level, and at a level in which the players knew, tolerated and, in general, accepted.” He also reported that the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office and the Sayerville Police Department were investigating “inappropriate conduct of a significant and serious nature” that allegedly took place within the football program. All three levels of the football program — varsity, JV and freshman — have had their seasons canceled.
Of course there are parents who disagree with the decision. They have criticized the Superintendent for punishing players who were not involved — as well as cheerleaders and band members. “It’s unfair for the kids that didn’t get to play this year that had nothing to do with it,” parent Joe Scirica told TODAY.
Now, Scirica may have a point about those not being involved and members of the cheerleader squad and band are also being punished. But, the point is extremely minor. There is a criminal investigation going on at the high school concerning “incidences of harassment, intimidation, and bullying on a pervasive level. This appears to be on a wide-scale level and at a level in which the players knew, tolerated and, in general accepted.” If that portion of the investigation proves out, how can a parent say their child was uninvolved? If they knew about what was going on and failed to report it to the school, they are generally accepted it and thus were involved.
There have been many instances where high school, college, and professional players were involved in things of this nature and worse. It is not uncommon to hear about football players intimidating and bullying other students. I have never heard of another school, as prominent and successful in the sport as this school, cancelling the season over these incidents. Usually, there is one or two scapegoats and the season goes along.
Maybe, just maybe, this will be the start of something big. If a successful program like Sayerville can have its season cancelled over these incidents, hopefully, other schools will look to use the same standard. That is probably going to be the only way for schools to put an end to this bullying behavior. The action taken by this school district was honorable. Of course, we have to wait and see what the criminal investigation proves as the case moves along.
But, I think Labbe did the right thing in cancelling the season. About the only thing that is worse than the bullying going on in our schools is the fact that many schools silently approve it by doing nothing to stop it. Sayerville chose not to silently approve bullying. They decided to take a stand against it. They should be applauded for that decision.
If we can stamp out the culture of athletes getting away with such behavior in high school, we may begin to see it end at the college and professional level as well. I am dubious that other high schools will take such a brave stance though. That is also part of the culture of bullying. As long as championships are gotten, schools all too often look the other way. Silence by administrators is the loudest approval there is.