Coach: “If one of you violates the rules, you will all run wind sprints.” This is a legal issue???

Punishing the many for the sins of one--it’s a common practice among coaches.  It’s designed to encourage the students to police their own behavior.  The coach lets it be known that we are a TEAM, and everyone is responsible for everyone else’s conduct.  You are your brother’s keeper.  So when one player screws up, the whole team has to pay the price.  It’s intended to build a sense of community among players who hold each other to high standards.  No doubt, it has that effect in many cases.

But a court case in Connecticut should cause coaches to be thoughtful about this.  The plaintiff in the case alleges that this practice only encouraged the boys on the football team to bully and harass their teammate.  Here is a part of the court’s opinion:

Also in the spring of 2012, Student D hit Doe [the eventual plaintiff] on the back of the neck in a “karate chop.”  Doe hit back, and both students received in-school suspensions.  Coach Dunaj [the eventual defendant] informed the team of Doe’s suspension, and disciplined the entire team for it by forcing them to run spring exercises called “gassers.”  The second amended complaint alleges that Dunaj was “aware that the policy of requiring the entire team to run gassers as a result of one student’s discipline would encourage players to retaliate within the team, and encourage escalating incidents of bullying, harassment and assaults.”

Of course this accusation does not come in a vacuum.  This is a bullying case that the court has twice declined to dismiss.  The allegations are that the coach not only condoned harassment and hazing—he encouraged it.  This accusation of imposing “gassers” on the whole team is just a part of it.  The case goes on to allege that the other players did, in fact, retaliate against Doe, that the coach was told about it and did nothing.

Times are changing.  Just because your coach made you run “gassers” because your teammate was late to practice, does not mean that it will pass muster in today’s climate.  If, in fact, a coach knows that the boys on the team (or the girls) are enforcing the rules in ways that amount to bullying, then you have a problem.

The case is Doe v. Torrington Board of Education.  It was decided by the District Court for Connecticut on August 7, 2017.  We found it at 117 LRP 32118.


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