TAG | Ohio State football
Just over a week ago, the Columbus Dispatch ran a story highlighting (celebrating?) Ohio State football’s new approach to conditioning and training motivation in the Urban Meyer regime: avoid the lavender jersey.
The Dispatch’s Tim May describes Ohio State’s new director of performance, Mickey Marrioti, as “a colorful motivator,” and that “In a scarlet and gray world, a lavender shirt sticks out.”
How it works: you loaf on the field and Mariotti makes you wear a lavender shirt—something the Dispatch describes as “a stain that takes at least a week of renewed gusto to erase.”
Senior linebacker Etienne Sabino acknowledges the purpose of the program, “You don’t want to wear those.”
So what’s wrong with it?
First, and the focus of my concern, while being masked as a tool to build a competitive team environment, forcing a player to wear a lavender jersey as punishment is patently homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, etc. It takes a color that is feminine—and regularly associated with either women or the gay community—and assigns it to weakness, lack of commitment, or failure to work hard. It is then used to demean and humiliate, you know, because the color is capable of emasculating even the manliest of men.
A former professor of mine, Douglas Whaley, blogged on the subject as well. (It is actually how I found out about this.) Whaley writes: “It never occurs to Marotti, of course, that some of his players might actually be gay.”
That is the biggest problem I have with the lavender jersey. If there is a single gay player on that team (the roster lists 86 young men, so odds are, there is at least one) or even an assistant coach or other team personnel, that person is now pushed further in to the closet and feels even more unwelcome and ostracized by the team. Isn’t that rather contrary to the purpose of building a cohesive football team?
Professor Whaley submitted a letter to the Dispatch editors much to that effect:
“So Ohio State football’s new director of performance makes players who are loafers on the field, in the weight room, etc., wear a lavender shirt to embarrass them ["New strength coach a colorful motivator," Feb. 13, 2012]. Does he also use anti-gay slurs when referring to these slackers or is the shirt’s color enough to send the same homophobic message?”
Sheesh, such a contrast from Jim Tressel (who, by the way, is as outspokenly Christian as Urban Meyer) who, as you may have forgotten, was the first Division I NCAA football coach to be interviewed by a GLBT publication.
The second problem—beyond that first point that I’m sure many folks would roll their eyes at, suggesting it is just some over-sensitive, liberal agenda mumbo-jumbo—at best, the program violates numerous NCAA and Ohio state policies, and at worst, the program violates Ohio law and Title IX.
Where to start?
How about Ohio State Athletics’ “Our Values” statement? Most pertinent:
People. We will keep the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff at the core of every decision.
I’m pretty sure the well-being of any gay athletes, coaches, or staffs have been ignored on this one.
Respect. We will celebrate a climate of mutual respect and diversity by recognizing each individual’s contribution to the team.
Violates this too.
What about the NCAA’s anti-hazing campaigns?
It turns out there is not an explicit hazing rule promulgated by the NCAA, but there are countless programs and initiatives the NCAA has initiated to prevent hazing. While most are directed at student-on-student hazing, it is much worse that hazing at issue here is coming directly from the institution—the entity usually charged with protecting the student-athletes from this type of conduct.
One initiative, NCAA’s hazing handbook, titled, “Building New Traditions: Hazing Prevention in College Athletics,” is illustrative.
Page 3. Comparing what is hazing versus team building.
Hazing: humiliates and degrades, tears down individuals, creates division, lifelong nightmares, shame and secrecy, and is a power trip.
This lavender jersey idea hits every single one of those…
Team building: promotes respect and dignity, supports and empowers, creates real teamwork, lifelong memories, pride and integrity, and is a shares positive experience.
… And none of these.
Page 4. What should athletic administrators be responsible for?
Well, crap, the athletic administrators are the ones doing the hazing here, so thinking they’d would act accordingly to prevent others from doing so is asking too much at Ohio State.
No need to keep going through the document; there is plenty there if you want to read further.
How about the “Hazing Fact Sheet” promulgated by the Ohio State Union?
While more directed at student organizations and fraternities, I presume the rules also apply to athletic teams (and if they don’t officially, they should). The Student Code of Conduct definition of hazing: “Doing, requiring or encouraging any act . . . that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm or humiliation.”
Okay, I’ve provided enough of the “soft” policies; how about some “hard” law now?
Civil liability for hazing is set forth in Ohio Revised Code § 2307.44: “Any person who is subject to hazing . . . may commence a civil action for injury or damages, including mental and physical pain and suffering, that result from the hazing.”
“If the hazing involves students in a . . . university . . . , an action may also be brought against any administrator, employee, or faculty member of the . . . university . . . who knew or reasonably should have known of the hazing and who did not make reasonable attempts to prevent it and against the . . . university . . . .”
That language looks really bad for Ohio State.
Now, the definition for hazing is written rather narrowly in § 2903.31, which could be a defense for Ohio State, in the event a player tried to sue about this.
A quick aside: I doubt any player—probably the only party that would have standing to actually sue about this—would ever bring a civil action about this. But, I think it’s generally a good idea to avoid violating laws whether or not you will actually be sued. (And you never know, maybe there is a gay player on the team or maybe one of those “loafers” doesn’t get their scholarship extended for next year and has a reason to sue.)
Anyway, the definition: “‘hazing’ means doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”
Arguably, the lavender jersey is not an “act of initiation.” If faced with a suit, I’m sure the school would say that the conditioning program is not an initiation to the team. The contrary argument is that especially during the early stages of team formation and conditioning, the norms and culture are being formed, and those are the team are being initiated to it. No knowing which argument would prevail, I would still go to the default perspective that a school—particularly one that hasn’t had the most pristine image as of late—should not test a gray area of the law.
Then there is Title IX.
Many only view Title IX as an equalizing device, providing more opportunities for women in sport. But the law is much more broad and can be used against gender stereotyping. The Women’s Sports Foundation provides a great synopsis of some cases that have addressed harassment based on gender expectations. The courts have ruled that “harassment based on gender non-conformity is a form of sex discrimination and, therefore, Title IX applies.”
Whether the conduct of the team (assigning the lavender jersey) or the conduct of the player (being the “loafer” leading to receiving the jersey) would trigger Title IX protection, again is debatable, but again, it seems like it would be risky for a school to continue conduct in such a gray area.
In sum, the lavender jersey motivation bothers me mostly for contributing to the homophobic culture of sports. But knowing that few athletic institutions will change their conduct because of that, hopefully all the violations of NCAA program, Ohio State University policies, and Ohio and federal laws may do the trick.
I’ve been in the works of planning a “homophobia in sports” type of event to be hosted at the Ohio State law school in mid-April. This issue will definitely have to be discussed, and I’ll be calling in the big shots to do the talking (and hopefully will be able to line up some meetings with athletic administrators as well).
A few hat-tips to send out: Professor Whaley for his original blog post, Andy Gammill for directing my attention to it, and Paul Alderete for creating the Ohio lavender jersey used as a thumbnail for this post (I have no idea what the actual lavender jersey looks like).