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    Editorial | Wednesday, Oct. 29 2 comments
    EDITORIAL: Bullying and abuse should be addressed with educational candor
    A dirty, little secret stains a football program that we should be celebrating. A few players on the Briar Woods High School football are accused of abusing younger players in several inappropriate incidents.

    It is hard to characterize these ugly incidents. People with knowledge of them describe them as acts of bullying, hazing, initiation or sexual abuse. Law enforcement officials have defined them as assaults and are investigating whether any of the activity was criminal.

    While the acts may not meet the criminal standard for assault or have not resulted in physical harm, they can not be considered harmless. Keeping them a secret exacerbates the problem.

    It is disconcerting that school officials failed to act on eyewitness accounts of abuse by varsity players on tryouts at weightlifting training in May. Had they addressed the incident with greater vigilance by confronting the incidents more directly, two additional incidents this month – both under investigation – may never have occurred. That was the conclusion of a father who advised his son to do the right thing and report an ugly incident to school officials, only to be told that while his story was corroborated there was insufficient evidence to warrant disciplinary action.

    School officials aren’t talking. They say they can’t. They view the incidents as serious, but cite the ongoing investigation by the sheriff’s office and the necessity to protect the identity of juveniles. The cone of silence extends to coaches and teachers with knowledge of stories that have quietly circulated over months. Fearful of recrimination, several have come forward with accounts of what happened in the Briar Woods weight and locker rooms.

    High school football teaches valuable lessons to impressionable young men about discipline, sacrifice and teamwork. The overwhelming majority of coaches strive to create a healthy culture within their programs with emphasis on sportsmanship and respect for others involved in the sport – especially younger, smaller teammates. But despite three championships in four years, something has gone wrong in the Briar Woods football program. There is more to it than a few, unsupervised teenage boys taking an act of brotherhood or perceived manhood to a humiliating extreme.

    This is not a moment for secrets. It is a moment for responsible parenting and teaching. We don’t require names, but we do deserve answers that can help us understand how the incidents occurred and how we can address them so they don’t happen again.

    The school district can and should lead an educational response to the problem. It can address it by establishing ways for parents to talk with their children about issues of bullying, harassment or abuse, for teachers to address the issues in schools without fear of recrimination and for students to understand that behaviors such as those described in the Briar Woods incidents are never acceptable.


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