Attorney General Maura Healey and state education authorities pledged Tuesday to mobilize against a surge of racist, homophobic, and antisemitic behavior in Massachusetts high school sports.
“We’ve seen in recent months that hate and bias in our community is making its way into our schools and into our school sports programs,” Healey told school superintendents, principals, athletic directors, coaches, officials, and student-athletes in a video conference titled, “Addressing Hate and Bias in School Athletics: A Call to Action.”
Healey said school sports in Massachusetts have experienced “an infection of bias and hate” that has included “bullying of fellow students, inappropriate hazing of teammates, and racist and antisemitic graffiti or language directed at peers.”
While her office’s civil rights division investigates the Danvers school system’s handling of alleged violent racist, homophobic, and antisemitic behavior by members of the 2019-20 Danvers High boys’ hockey team — allegations first reported in detail last November by the Globe — Healey released published guidance for school athletic leaders on how to prevent incidents of hate.
She also announced that her office will convene a statewide conference by the fall for school officials to address the problem and will schedule regional training sessions for school athletic leaders led by the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern.
Joining Healey in the initiative were state Education Commissioner Jeff Riley and leaders of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Massachusetts School Administrators Association, and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Tim Piwowar, president of the superintendents association, said effective leadership begins at the top in each school district.
“As superintendents, it may be easy to compartmentalize athletics as the domain of the athletic director and high school principal,” said Piwowar, superintendent of schools in Billerica. “But the buck stops with us. If we’re not aware of what’s going on in our athletic programs and not taking an active role in addressing issues when they occur, we’re abdicating our responsibilities.”
Longtime Danvers School Superintendent Lisa Dana went on medical leave in December, seven weeks after the Globe reported on the response by her office and the Danvers School Committee to the allegations surrounding the hockey team. She has not returned.
A lengthy series of disturbing complaints about biased behavior in Massachusetts high school sports has been documented since the Globe first reported in March 2021 that the Anti-Defamation League was calling for an investigation into allegations that the Duxbury football team used Holocaust-related terms such as “Auschwitz” to call plays.
Most recently, Wayland officials announced in February they were canceling the school’s spring games against Westford Academy after Westford students targeted a Black Wayland girls’ basketball player with racist and sexist taunts during a game in Westford.
Previous incidents included an alleged locker room assault on a freshman football player in Woburn, alleged racist social media posts by a Quincy High student targeting athletic rivals at North Quincy, alleged racist taunts by Xaverian students toward Brockton High’s halftime performers, as well as alleged offensive language at schools in South Easton, Hyannis, Newton, and Georgetown.
The antisemitic language in Duxbury was exposed just five months after Healey issued guidance to schools about their legal obligation to prevent and address incidents of hate and bias.
Mike Rubin, assistant director of the MIAA, said the organization is developing a discriminatory incident reporting system that will require schools to report incidents of hate and bias. Schools that experience discriminatory incidents also will be required to investigate them and file reports with the MIAA.
The information will be compiled, Rubin said, “to make sure that together we are all working to eradicate the awful hate and behavior that has become so pervasive in our athletic space.”
The MIAA governs 374 schools and more than 230,000 student-athletes who participate in 32 leagues statewide.
The Center for the Study of Sport in Society has provided diversity, equity, and inclusion training to Major Baseball League, the National Football League and its players association, college conferences, the military, police departments, corporations, and many school systems, among other entities.
“We want to create positive change not only in our schools but in our communities,” said Dan Lebovitz, the center’s executive director.
Bob Hohler can be reached at [email protected]