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From: Florida High School Athletic Association
To: All School Athletic Departments
Subject: Bullying prevention - the next step
As you may be aware, there's a bill in the Florida Legislature called The Safe Athletics Education Act. It's a reaction to the well-publicized bullying allegations between teammates on the Miami Dolphins.
Bullying has become an issue in Florida because Jonathan Martin, who played high school and college football in California, claimed that his fellow Dolphins lineman, Richie Incognito, who played high school football in Arizona and college football in Nebraska, bullied him in the locker room after they had become professional football players in Miami.
Both Martin and Incognito could have been NFL players together on one of the other 29 teams from other states, but because they were together on the Dolphins, this has suddenly become an issue for Florida high schools.
And now we've all got to deal with The Safe Athletics Education Act. It's the law of gravity that Isaac Newton didn't contemplate - the one that says that all bad news flows downhill.
The proposed state law would require us at the FHSAA to get high school student athletes to sign a pledge not to engage in bullying.
If students don't sign, they won't be able to play. (Our attorneys are looking into whether this might actually constitute bullying tactics on our part.)
We've also got to train coaches, compile bullying reports, and create a climate of respectful conduct in athletics, the proposed legislation says.
Intervention to promote respectful conduct during athletes' formative years reduces the incidence of such detrimental behavior when they mature into adulthood, the text of the bill reads.
So, it's time to embrace this and come up with some interventions on our own.
To do that, our efforts to embrace respectful conduct need to go beyond policing locker-room banter and into a more substantive area of callous abuse.
Yes, team names.
If your school is named after a predator in the animal world or a human predator (i.e. pirate), what message is that giving our children? Certainly not an I care message.
There are far too many teams named after either ruthless flesh-eating beasts or the sorts of people not associated with the soul-healing wisdom of the Dalai Lama.
Hawks spend their day circling the skies looking for small, defenseless and cuddly mammals to maul. How are we supposed to instill gentleness among the athletes at Seminole Ridge High School with such a bird as their animal-world role model?
And to saddle those Buccaneers at Benjamin High School with the lawless plundering of sea bandits certainly blunts the message of respect and goodwill we want to encourage.
Wouldn't The Considerate Chipmunks or The Origami Rabbits be better names? Or perhaps, we should be coming up with names that reinforce good lifestyle choices, such as The Healthy Snackers or The Veganauts.
And why do teams have to win, and by doing so beat the other team?
Instead of wins and losses, you might want to start rethinking these outcomes in more result-neutral ways. Sure, we wouldn't be faced with this new campaign if the random fates had made Incognito and Martin teammates in Buffalo, Pittsburgh or Denver.
So get ready for a lot of respectful conduct in Florida schools. Whether you like it or not.
Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post.