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Anti-Defamation League, Mass. attorney general step up campaign with MIAA to fight abuse in sports

Attorney General Maura Healey will cohost the “Addressing Hate in School Sports Conference” Dec. 8 at TD Garden.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

A surge of racist, antisemitic, and homophobic abuse in New England high school sports in recent years exposed serious flaws in many communities. Coaches, school leaders, and elected officials fell short of fulfilling their obligations to prevent and properly respond to cases of bigotry, bullying, and hazing.

As state and human rights leaders wage a campaign to address the misconduct, the Anti-Defamation League Wednesday released a comprehensive guide to provide schools the resources they need to properly address the causes and cases of abuse in sports.

The ADL, one of the nation’s leading antidiscrimination organizations, is distributing the guide to school superintendents across New England and will make it available to hundreds of participants at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Sportsmanship Summit at Gillette Stadium Nov. 10.


“Over the past two years, we have responded to countless incidents of antisemitism, racism, and bigotry in middle and high school sports programs,” said Robert Trestan, the ADL’s New England regional director. “It is time to go from responding to preventing.”

Attorney General Maura Healey, who has helped to lead the effort, is cohosting an event, “Addressing Hate in School Sports Conference,” Dec. 8 at TD Garden, to provide training and support for school and athletic officials statewide.

“Sports can be a powerful tool for bringing people together and bridging the divide that we see too often in our communities,” Healey said. “We appreciate the ADL’s efforts to join with us in providing resources to school leaders to create positive change and end hate.”

The ADL’s 27-page guidebook, “School Sports and Bias: Best Practices and Resources for Athletic Directors, Coaches, and School Administrators,” is a detailed blueprint for school officials who are entrusted to protect student-athletes from abuse and respond to incidents of bias, bullying, and hazing.

“The most effective responses to bias incidents incorporate prevention, intervention, and long-term education,” the booklet states. “The work to build inclusive athletic spaces cannot begin after an incident has occurred. A commitment to continuous anti-bias learning is essential before, during and after an incident.”


Some of the most disturbing incidents in Massachusetts interscholastic sports have involved physical assaults and have raised serious questions about the school districts’ preventative practices and responses. In Danvers, the administration’s mishandling of violent racist and homophobic hazing as well as bigoted, antisemitic text exchanges involving members of the 2019-20 high school boys’ hockey team prompted an investigation by Healey’s division of civil rights.

Multiple incidents at Danvers High led to an investigation from Healy's office.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The inquiry found numerous failures by Danvers school leaders, who agreed to develop additional initiatives aimed at preventing and responding to bullying, harassment, and biased misconduct, under the attorney general’s oversight through the 2023-24 school year.

In Woburn, school officials have drawn scrutiny for not fully informing the community about their investigation into a throng of football players assaulting a freshman teammate in 2021 in the locker room.

MIAA executive director Bob Baldwin has identified addressing the outbreak of abuse as a top priority. He cited the collaborative effort of the ADL, the attorney general’s office, the Northeastern Center for the Study of Sport in Society, the state education department, and the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents in helping to counter “hate and bias through the platform of interscholastic athletics.”

The ADL and the Northeastern center are scheduled to lead workshops at the MIAA’s Sportsmanship Summit. The Northeastern center also is scheduled to conduct 12 regional training sessions for school officials and athletes statewide as part of Healey’s initiative.


Dan Lebowitz, the Northeastern center’s executive director, described the ADL’s guidebook as an important road map for “stakeholders to create and sustain safe, inclusive, and healthy environments of social emotional wellness.”

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Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.