A series of disturbing behavior and incidents involving high school athletics across the state of Massachusetts prompted a call to action in April from Attorney General Maura Healey.
On Thursday morning, Healey’s office, along with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Mass. Association of School Superintendents, the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Mass. School Administrators Association, the Anti-Defamation League New England, and Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport and Society collaborated for “Addressing Hate in School Sports,” a conference for representatives of athletic departments and schools at TD Garden.
Healey, the Governor-elect, led the conference after recently launching a campaign against abuse in schools, which emphasized the importance of coaches and athletic directors in the lives of youth athletes. Key messaging concerned mentorship and providing examples that adults should follow to help athletes.
“There was a time, when it seemed like week after week, we were hearing certain incidents that were happening,” Healey said.
“I wanted to do something about it, I wanted to bring people together — like we’re doing today, and like we’re doing with this initiative — because we need to be really clear.”
The work between Healey’s office, the MIAA and other organizations produced an event with speakers from professional sports organizations in Boston and neighboring towns, including keynote speaker Dana Barros, who starred on the basketball court at Xaverian Brothers and Boston College before a 14-year career in the NBA.
With 115 member schools in attendance, MIAA Executive Director Bob Baldwin spoke about changing the narrative of the association and focusing on playing a more active role in the everyday life of students and educating them through athletics rather than simply running statewide tournaments and being an administrative body.
“We can use the entity of sports to talk about what good behavior is, what right behavior is,” Baldwin said. “Karissa Niehoff . . . the [National Federation of State High School Associations] president said that we’re too interested in the performative, not in the formative.”
In addition to the conference, the MIAA has shown its commitment to providing an inclusive environment for athletes through their 2021 pilot program that created a “discriminatory incident reporting form.” The association has received 35 reports since the launch.
Barros focused on how the adults in his life protected him and paved the way for his success, leading him to an NBA matchup with Michael Jordan.
Following Barros’s speech, the program included multiple breakout sessions focused on recognizing where bias is often found, how to handle situations with hate speech and actions, and the next steps to building a positive sport culture.
For Newton South track & field head coach Ted Norton, educating coaches, officials, and parents is the path to a better culture.
“We’re trying to make sure we develop a good culture for kids,” Norton said. “Most of the problems that are arising are from the adults, the kids are sort of looking at their adult figures . . . so we’re trying to address it early for them.”
Partnering with the NU’s Center for the Study of Sport and Society, the attorney general’s office and the MIAA will continue their efforts through conferences across the state in the coming months.
“Our kids need a safe space to flourish, to compete,” said Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “And it’s up to us, the adults, to provide that for them.”