Sports association says uptick in racial slurs comes after crackdown

Dec 9, 2021, 4:17 PM
referee whistle racial slurs in sports zero tolerance policy...
UHSAA officials say the real reason for an uptick in ejections and suspensions for the use of racial slurs is that the association has instructed referees and other officials to pay closer attention to what's said on the field. (Photo by Ben Stansall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ben Stansall/Getty Images)

MIDVALE, Utah — The Utah High School Athletics Association wants to put an end to the casual use of racial slurs in high school sports in the state. 

UHSAA reports there’s been an uptick in the use of racial slurs at games but says it’s driven by their crackdown.

Zero tolerance for racial slurs in high school sports 

In high school football, hurling a racial slur is taunting. It’s a zero tolerance rule that has been on the books for three years now.

And it says “taunting, defined as including racial slurs, discriminatory acts, and divisive comments on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, creed, or national origin” should result in a suspension from eight quarters for a first offense. It doubles for a second one, and a third knocks a player out for the rest of their season and any other sports for the school year.

“There has been an increase, but I believe that has to do with our focus on trying to correct the problem and not so much that there is more of them,” says Jeff Cluff, UHSAA’s assistant director. “That’s my personal opinion, I have no data on that.”

Cluff says there are more reports because they asked referees and coaches to watch for the language.

Where this is coming from 

“We did have several ejections in the first week of our football contests, which then sparked an emergency meeting with our football officials,” said Cluff. 

One ejection occurred when a Black Layton High School football player told another teen not to call him the n-word during the game, and he was subsequently ejected.

USHAA’s diversity committee held a meeting to help football coaches teach their players not to use the language.

“It made an immediate impact,” Cluff said. “We went several weeks without any situations.”

What happens when players use racial slurs on the field

“It’s put our officials in a very difficult situation,” Cluff said. “We do have a procedure in place that when someone reports an issue of taunting, race discrimination, religious discrimination, gender identity… a number of issues we have zero tolerance for, it’s not just race. We have asked our officials to be that go-between.” 

If someone reports the use of a slur to a referee, the official can stop the game to address it. They would then ask the coaches to address it with their own teams. 

“Officials have to be able to hear it, and identify it,” Cluff said of the events in the Syracuse versus Layton game. “The official heard the kid say it, and the penalty is he’s ejected and receives a suspension. If he would have mentioned he was called the n-word during the game… then the officials would have stopped the game and sent the teams to their sidelines. Then the coaches would return to their benches and have a conversation. That’s part of our procedure in how we’re trying to help make a difference and make a change.” 

He says the racial slur, deemed as taunting, is no different than the call of a “flagrant foul“. 

“Flagrant behavior is why they’re ejected,” said Cluff. “It’s no different than if a kid uses the ‘f’ word and screams it out that an official isn’t going to eject them for that same thing.”

Responding to the criticism around the crackdown

However, the use of racial slurs in sports carries a heavier penalty than screaming out the ‘f’ word. If a student uses a slur, they receive an eight-quarter suspension on their first offense. For the first offense of swear words, they only get the boot for four quarters. 

“We, as an association, are trying to be a solution to the problem,” Cluff said. “We’re being criticized for that, and that’s okay. We really are trying to work with our administrators, with our coaches, and with those kids who are in a situation where they are the minority.”

“We need to be better, and that’s what our association’s goal and initiative is,” he said. “That’s why we have an inclusive and diversity committee… to make us better. All of us are just trying to better and do right by all. We need to be better, we need to do better. And it has to start with every one of us.” 

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Sports association says uptick in racial slurs comes after crackdown