One football coach in Roosevelt, Utah is taking a very hands-on, holistic approach to guiding his team. In a move we could imagine Herman Boone (Denzel Washington’s character in Remember the Titans) pulling if he were the head honcho at Union High School, Matt Labrum suspended all 41 football players, pending character development. What was the wrongdoing that lead to such drastic measures? Cyberbullying.
Although some of the players were flunking assignments, cutting classes, and mouthing-off to their teachers, an act of cyberbullying was the tipping point for Labrum. Apparently, a student at the school who was being harassed via the social networking site Ask.fm, which allows users to ask one another questions anonymously, had good reason to suspect members of the football team were behind the attacks. Though officials were unable to weed out the individuals responsible, Labrum “felt like we needed to make a stand.”
The site has been linked to at least five teen suicides globally, and after the bullying-incited tragedies of recent years, it’s clear matters such as these cannot be dismissed with a simple slap on the wrist. Despite garnering some criticism for breach of contract and sabotaging the school’s stats, with the support of school administrators, Labrum disbanded his team. In addition, he and the football staff met with the cyberbullying victim to apologize for the players’ behavior.
However, Labrum didn’t want to just punish the boys without getting to the root of the issue. So, rather than holding practice for the week leading up to the homecoming game, the former team members volunteered, did community service, and participated in lessons in character building. Most of the players ultimately met Labrum’s standards for improvement and were reinstated in time to play in the homecoming game taking place today, September 27. For now, the kids seem to have learned their lesson. Senior running back Gavin Nielson attests: “It helped me realize, it’s not all about football.”
Of course, the question remains why—so often it seems—are instances of cyberbullying allowed to escalate to such toxic levels? Why wasn’t the football team checked before matters reached breaking point? Social media clearly isn’t going anywhere, and kids are plugging in earlier and earlier in life. Combine access to tablets with all the social and hormonal changes kids go through in high school and this sort of destructive behavior is a natural result. It’s important to work a conversation about cyberbullying into any discussion of screen time and Internet policies. Perhaps have a family movie night and pop in Lee Hirsh’s Bully, if you can’t quite find the words.
Not really clear on what constitutes cyberbullying, or want to know more about what kids get up to on the Internet? Check out Stopbullying.gov. It’s a great government-sponsored resource that walks you through all the basics, along with response and prevention measures you can take.