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Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)
I had the privilege a few years ago of helping found and then serving as the first executive director of the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition, a group of concerned Utah citizens whose goal is to help stamp out bullying in all its insidious forms. We chose to work primarily with middle school and high school students by sponsoring assemblies, bringing in motivational speakers and helping students form anti-bullying clubs, among other initiatives. The media helped, writing and broadcasting pieces about the need for more civility and inclusivity in schools. And we felt as though we had some success.
And so it was with no small amount of sadness and a little anger that I heard about a couple of ugly incidents that marred the start of this year's high school sports season.
On Aug. 14, the girls soccer team from Sky View traveled to Alta for a match. Sky View's team features two African-American players, sisters Darci and Emmie Woodward. About 10 minutes into the first half, Emmie says, a male shouted from the Alta student section, "Black lives don't matter!" A little later, Darci says, she heard someone in the same section shout, "I hope you're embarrassed" and "Nice shot, (slur)."
It is something Emmie and Darci say they had never experienced before. Their parents, who are white, adopted them when they were young children, and they say they have always felt welcome and secure in their Smithfield neighborhood and school, and everywhere they have traveled and played.
The girls say they reported the shouting of the racial slurs to officials and coaches at the time, but nothing was done.
Social media has been abuzz with the incident, and several local TV stations have followed the story.
A Canyons School District spokesman says the district has "a very strict anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policy" and when the district heard about the incident it "launched an investigation."
A few days later at a Jordan vs. East football game, an East High fan made derogatory comments about a Jordan coach who has a physical disability and walks with two canes. The coach's son, who is a player on the Jordan team, heard the comments, confronted the uncouth fan and a fight ensued.
The Jordan administration says it is investigating.
Investigations into episodes like these are expected, and who knows what may come of them.
Of course, the incidents never should have happened in the first place.
Students should feel welcome and safe at school, whether their own or those they may visit. Sporting events and the accompanying heat of competition seem to bring out the worst in some people. But that is no excuse for racist, bullying and boorish behavior.
Assuming the administrations' investigations find offenders, they should take appropriately strong actions to let everyone involved know that such conduct is not acceptable under any circumstances. In addition, the schools involved should use the incidents as teaching moments in assemblies or in the classroom to impress upon students once again that kindness, tolerance and acceptance are the mainstays of a civilized society.
They should encourage students to take a strong stand with their peers against racism, bullying and incivility in any of its forms. Indeed, nothing sends a stronger message than students standing up and saying, "Not in our house!" Also, it would be well for the schools and the districts to send communications to the students' homes encouraging parents to use these unfortunate incidents to teach their children about tolerance and kindness.
The vast majority of Utah students, their parents and fans of their sports teams are polite and considerate. But those few who choose to rebuff propriety and behave in unacceptable ways need to be called out and held accountable.
Don Olsen is a former television journalist and co-founder and partner of a media and public relations firm.
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