The IHSA announced on Tuesday it was implementing a new policy addressing hate speech and harassment.
The IHSA board of directors met Aug. 24 and discussed the policy, which provides the organization consistent framework to address everyone involved should hate speech or harassment occur during a postseason contest or meet.
The policy defines hate speech or harassment as verbal, nonverbal 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.
“This is an important topic for our board of directors, our staff and our member schools,” IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. “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.
“I don’t believe the 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. 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 both head coaches. 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 and coach will be 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.
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 postgame procedures will still occur with both school administrations being alerted.
IHSA assistant executive director Beth Sauser, who oversees the Do What’s Right! Sportsmanship Advisory Committee, said the message the policy sends is that addressing hate speech and harassment are bigger than the game.
“We are going to stop the game and get to the bottom of the situation to see if something inappropriate has occurred,” Sauser said. “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.”