The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) implemented a new Board of Directors Policy aimed at addressing hate speech and harassment during the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting on August 24, 2020.
The IHSA Hate Speech and Harassment Policy reiterates that the Association does not tolerate hate speech or harassment, while seeking to provide a consistent framework to address and educate everyone involved should hate speech or harassment occur during a postseason contest or meet.
“This is an important topic to our Board of Directors, our staff, and our member schools,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “It feels especially topical given some of the recent events in our country. Hate speech is learned, it is not engrained. We feel like by addressing it at its core and providing education, we can help enlighten our coaches and athletes to be better citizens.”
The Policy defines hate speech or harassment as verbal, non-verbal, or physical acts aimed at a person’s sex, gender identification, race, religion, creed, age, national origin, ancestry, pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation, or disability.
“I don’t believe IHSA schools have a significant problem with hate speech or harassment, but we do seem to have a few incidents or allegations occur each year,” said Anderson. “We recognize that teenagers make mistakes. Or that they may say or do things that they do not understand are hate speech or harassment. Interscholastic athletics and activities are an extension of the classroom. We owe it to our students to educate them on these matters.”
If hate speech is heard by or reported to game officials, the officials will stop play and alert the head coaches of both teams. The incident will be discussed with the coaches and players involved to gain clarity, as well as to see if the allegation can be verified. If the hate speech can be verified, the culpable player or coach is immediately ejected from the game and suspended for the next contest. If the incident cannot be verified, warnings will be issued, and any further incidents could result in ejections. Game administration will also be notified, and will be charged with ejecting any fans who engage in hate speech or harassment.
“The message this policy is sending is that addressing hate speech and harassment is bigger than the game,” said IHSA Assistant Executive Director Beth Sauser, who oversees the IHSA Do What’s Right! Sportsmanship Advisory Committee. “We are going to stop the game and get to the bottom of the situation to see if something inappropriate has occurred. No matter the outcome, we are going to work with the schools immediately afterward to make sure it is addressed. We want these to be teachable moments that individuals can learn and grow from.”
Regardless of whether the allegations are verified at the event or not, the Athletic Directors from both schools will be notified of the incident within 24 hours so that they can begin to address the situation internally. Additionally, if hate speech or harassment occurs during a contest, but a coach is not informed until after the contest, the same post-game procedures will still occur with both school administrations being alerted.
“In order to change this type of behavior, we have to know about it,” said Sauser. “We understand that an individual may be reluctant to report hate speech to an official or coach in the middle of a contest. It is vital that they can report it afterward to allow our office to facilitate these conversations within the participating schools.”
A group of Athletic Directors from the Central Suburban, Mid Suburban, North Suburban, and Upstate 8 Conferences presented to the IHSA Board at their meeting in February about the merits of a Hate Speech and Harassment Policy.
“Our mission was to help spread this message across Illinois that all student-athletes and coaches know they are protected and can compete without fear, intimidation or harassment,” said Evanston Township High School Athletic Director Chris Livatino, whose Central Suburban League (CSL) is believed to be the state’s first conference to adopt a Hate Speech Policy. “We have definitely seen a decline in hate speech incidents towards our student-athletes in CSL contests since this policy was implemented back in 2016. What makes this policy important is not the procedures and consequences, but the message it sends to all students, coaches, fans, and administrators about the value that the IHSA places on respecting all people no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation.”
The IHSA Hate Speech and Harassment Policy is in affect for all postseason IHSA State Series contests and events, leaving regular-season incidents of this nature to be covered by that sports’ rulebook, or by a local conference or school policy. The IHSA encourages conferences to consider using the IHSA Hate Speech and Harassment Policy language to adopt a policy of their own.
“I am thankful to see the addition of this Policy, as it will positively impact the entire IHSA membership,” said Glenbard East High School Athletic Director D’Wayne Bates, whose school belongs to the Upstate Eight Conference, which also adopted a Hate Speech Policy. “In our history and current social unrest, unfortunately hate speech is happening. This policy allows a consistency in protocol to appropriately deal with hate speech. There are several conferences, including the Central Suburban and UpState Eight conferences, that have adopted a hate speech policy, and it is my hope that all IHSA members schools and conferences will do the same. It is our duty to protect our student-athletes, coaches, and community members from hate speech, and the IHSA has afforded us this opportunity to steward this responsibility.”