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High school sports trash talk: Officials weigh crackdown to cover social media

Trash talk during a game can get a player into a lot of trouble – from drawing a foul to being ejected and having to sit out the next contest.

Section executive directors and members of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Central Committee will discuss two forms of talking trash – electronic and verbal – at their quarterly meeting in Rochester today through Thursday.

Section III executive John Rathbun wants the central committee to consider adding taunting or baiting opponents via social media to a list of no-nos during state playoffs.

“I’m aware of a couple of situations where there’s been taunting, or baiting” on social media, Rathbun said last week.

Rathbun said he’ll propose wording that could be added to a code of conduct agreement that all high school athletes must sign before taking part in state playoffs.

That code currently bans the use of alcohol and tobacco products, enforces curfews and prohibits trashing hotels or locker rooms. But Rathbun said there’s no provision for dealing with texts or Tweets that demean opponents.

The idea is to give NYSPHSAA some power to punish schools whose athletes use social media to trash talk. Penalties could range from a reprimand for the school to suspension from a sport for one year, depending on the severity of the act.

“We’ve had a number of situations throughout the state where there’s been taunting, baiting, posting of pictures … just some rude things,” he said. “Really there’s no penalty if a kid is caught harassing somebody through social media. So we’re going to take a look at that.”

Rathbun acknowledged that such a regulation would present a number of enforcement issues, including how to prove who did what to whom, but he feels the issue is worth discussing.

Michael Carboine, Homer athletics director and one of four Section III representatives to the Central Committee, said social media should be included in any attempts to regulate sportsmanship.

“It’s the world we live in today,” he said. “Obviously there’s been some concerns.”

Carboine said the age-old question of teens picking on one another isn’t limited to the playing field.

Taunting and bullying have gone on in school hallways for years.

“It’s not just limited to sports,” he said. “Whether it’s face-to-face or electronic.”

Marisa Romeo, a star lacrosse and basketball player who recently graduated from Christian Brothers Academy, said she knows trash talking takes place on social media.

Romeo, a co-player of the year on this year’s All-Central New York girls lacrosse team and an All-CNY selection in basketball, said she wasn’t aware of being personally trashed on social media. But Romeo said CBA’s state champion girls lacrosse team has been the subject of some posts.

“I’ve definitely seen stuff about my team,” said the five-time All-CNY selection in lacrosse and basketball who is headed to Harvard to play lacrosse.

Romeo said some of the CBA players “went back and forth” with another local team on social media in the past, but the Brothers stayed away from such electronic trash talking this year.

“We knew we had great potential this season. We didn’t want any of that taken away from by how we acted through social media,” she said.

Romeo said she was aware of a Twitter account held by the student section for another local school with a successful basketball team.

“And because they could hide behind the name of their student section and it wouldn’t affect the basketball team, they would (post) stuff after every game. I thought it completely took away from their team’s success,” she said.

John Cifonelli, the athletics director and girls basketball coach at Bishop Grimes, traces the problem of social media trash talking back to the origins of online forums, including those on Syracuse.com.

“The problem there is that things become really anonymous,” he said.

While there haven’t been any major problems at Grimes regarding social media and athletics, he said administrators and coaches are aware of the potential.

“I’d be lying to you if I said that a lot of our coaches don’t take a peek at our student-athletes’ Twitter sites or Facebook sites, to try and make sure things are as they should be,” Cifonelli said. “But with the ability to privatize sites, it’s really tough.”

Cifonelli said many area athletes become familiar with one another through summer league and travel teams, and the rivalries that can spawn are often friendly, not malicious. Tweets or posts deemed as “trash talking” would have to clearly be over the line.

“The million-dollar question to this whole thing is: ‘Where is the line?'” he said.

Another discussion item on this week’s Central Committee agenda involves last month’s passage of new standards by the New Jersey athletic association that target in-game taunting, or trash talking, by athletes “related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or religion.”

Rules in New Jersey already provide for high school athletes or coaches cited for unsportsmanlike “and flagrant verbal or physical misconduct” to sit out the next two regularly scheduled events (or one game in the case of football).

Under the new rules, which take effect this September, discriminatory conduct also will be reported to the state Division on Civil Rights for possible action.

Robert Zayas, the NYSPHSAA’s new executive director, said neither issue – trash talking during games or on social media – are scheduled for any action this week.

Zayas wants each of the 11 executive directors and the Central Committee members to take the issues back to their respective sections before any action is taken.

“I’m trying hard to see that we’re not voting on items that have not been discussed for possible action at the sectional level,” said Zayas, who took office last fall.

Section III’s Rathbun said rules in place in New York already call for players tossed out of contests for unsportsmanlike conduct to sit out the next game. A second infraction puts the player out for two games, and a third costs them the rest of the season.

Zayas avoided throwing his opinion into the mix.

“I think it’s very subjective as to what is trash talking and what isn’t,” he said.

But there’s no mistaking social media’s growing impact on sports, and sportsmanship, he said.

“It’s changing the way we live – it really is,” said Zayas, who recently hired a new social media coordinator to modernize the NYSPHSAA website and manage the organization’s Twitter presence.

In fact, the NYSPHSAA plans to send out Tweets from this week’s meetings.

“We’re definitely in a new era,” he said.

What do you think? Does Section III and the rest of the state need rules to help police social media posts by athletes? If so, what should they be and how could they be enforced? Comment below or email me with your thoughts.

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