Tom Owens


Imagine a classroom teacher detailing ways to taunt and name-call, drilling her students on chants designed to humiliate another group of students. Who, anywhere, would expect that to happen?

But in school gyms and stadiums, such behavior -- sometimes characterized as humor rather than humiliation -- often is the norm. Racial, religious, ethnic or socioeconomic differences between teams often increase the volume of intolerance, and win-at-all-cost boosters may ignore or even encourage such verbal venom. "We're talking about respectfulness," said Michael Josephson, founder of the Character Counts Coalition and creator of its Pursuing Victory With Honor program. "It's respecting everybody -- yourself, your fellow students, your opponent and the game itself."

Josephson brings it back to the classroom: "You don't have a right to yell out insults (at a school sporting event) any more than I could stand over your shoulder in class and boo and hiss every time you made a mistake." How nasty have trash-talking high school fans become? Consider a few examples from around the nation:

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