NJ lawmaker proposes law to require coaches to get sensitivity training

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HACKENSACK -

A New Jersey lawmaker has introduced legislation to help high school coaches better understand the needs of their student-athletes.

Democratic Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly says that the goal of his bill is to make sure teens are not being targeted or discriminated against based on their race, religion or gender. The bill would make it mandatory for all coaches, athletic directors and game officials to undergo sensitivity training.

Wimberly has a second job as the head football coach at Hackensack High School. He says that he created the bill after noticing that while he was on the sidelines, he heard players using derogatory names toward each other. He says that he also wonders if his teams have been racially discriminated against because he himself is black.

“You feel helpless toward your players when they walk off the field and go ‘Wow. We had 22 penalties and our opponent had two penalties. How can this happen?’” Wimberly says.

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Under the bill, coaches would learn about racial bias, gender and sexual orientation, disabilities and inclusion among others. Cultural differences would also be addressed.

Wimberly says that another inspiration for the bill was an incident that happened with a wrestler at Buena Regional High School in December. A referee told wrestler Andrew Johnson his hair was too long and that he would have to cut his dreadlocks if he wanted to compete.

"When he won and his hand raised as victor, he was totally deflated,” says Wimberly. “As a parent that hurt. As a coach I felt we had to do something about this immediately and right away."

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which is investigating the Buena matter, is said to be on board with this training if passed into law. The training would be directed by the New Jersey Department of Education.

Game officials were also added to the bill after the Buena incident. In the Buena case, no one, not the coaches nor trainer stood up for Johnson. After the incident school officials determined what happened was wrong.

"We share the common belief that no child should ever be faced with such a situation,” a Buena Regional High School official said.

Wimberly says under the bill, "A young person would never be put in a situation to be humiliated like this ever again."

The bill has is set to go up for a full vote in the state Assembly. And then head on to the Senate for consideration. It would take effect immediately if passed into law.

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