How many times do we have to continue to hear about hazing issues in high school sports? For some reason the story always seems to end up with some kind of sexual assault.
This winter a basketball team in Tennessee sodomized several of the younger players with a pool stick and more recently a incident outside of Philly has come to light, but this time a football team with a broomstick. This ritual was called "No Gay Day", because of course so many gay men partake in these type of activities.
As an educator and coach, I believe that these acts are all about culture. What kind of environment does a coach create for his team? Don't get me wrong, sometimes you have players that act on their own, but when it becomes a group effort, it falls on the coach.
Any good coach can judge the pulse of the team. I have texted players at 3:00AM to address an inappropriate tweet. When incidents of this magnitude occur, kids talk. Players scream, hoot and chant. Often after practice I will send an assistant into the locker room if it gets too loud to make sure everything is kosher.
So other than a coach being totally oblivious, how else do these kinds of incidents occur? More often than not they are overlooked. You often hear, "it's tradition, been done for years and it's all part of playing sports." All of those answers should lead to immediate firings.
For so long challenging someone's masculinity was acceptable. No one cared about the mental ramifications of bullying, and in many cases assault. Those who challenged the system were ostracized and further bullied.
Locally I've heard stories of players who were urinated on, smacked with others' genitals and assaulted. Somehow, these cases were swept under the carpet.
Absolutely disgusting. Yet many of these coaches remain revered.
This past season my team traveled to Kentucky for what ended up being a week (thank you blizzard). Prior to the trip I addressed all of these issues and let it be known there would be zero tolerance, and I would end the season in a heartbeat if any inappropriate behavior occurred.
In the back of my mind I knew we were safe. As an openly gay coach I preach inclusion and respect on a daily basis. My players understand and follow my lead.
In many cases coaches are above their athletic department and wield more power in the community. If you win, you can do what you want, even at the expense of your weaker and younger players.
Social media has allowed these incidents to be way more in the open. Kids film things, they tweet, they share. This leads to conversations and eventually public knowledge. The ABC show American Crime has dedicated it's second season to a similar incident. Although a little far-fetched, the idea is real. Coaches cover-up bad behavior by their players and many are hurt in the aftermath.
Bottom line is this: We as coaches are educators. The gym or field are extensions of the classroom. The rules and regulations should be the same. If incidents like this happen in the classroom, teachers would lose their jobs. The same needs to happen to coaches.
Coaching is a privilege. Parents grant us the right the help mentor their kids. They expect us to protect them. We all need to preach inclusion and make our student-athletes better people. Culture can be a powerful thing and this is created from the top.
Anthony Nicodemo is the head boys basketball coach at Saunders High School in Yonkers, N.Y. He is on Twitter @CoachNicodemo.