New rules will apply in NJ to football games and other high school sports that utilize referees, aimed at eliminating unsportsmanlike trash talk. 

Players and attendees will now be required to abide by expanded restrictions on certain conduct and speech, and in some cases, use of specific biased language will get a player reported to the Division on Civil Rights in the state’s Attorney General’s office.

From NJ.com/The Star Ledger:

New Jersey this season is believed to be the first state in the country to institute new biased-language rules for high school sports. Officials are carrying laminated cards in their pockets outlining what will be considered crossing the line between competitive back-and-forth banter and discriminatory language.

Whoop and shout after delivering a big hit and you might get a warning.

But drop the “N-word” and you’re not only finished for that game and the next, but referees must report the infraction to the state’s governing body for high school athletics, which then passes the player’s name and the violation on to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights in the Attorney General’s Office. 

Calling an opponent a “faggot” also will end a player’s day immediately. In fact, any verbal, written or physical conduct related to race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation is grounds for disqualification. After that, it can get a little tricky. In some instances, using the “F-word” is sure to get you tossed; in others, referees seemingly will have leeway to chalk it up to good-natured trash talking.

The new rules apply not only to football but every high school sport that uses officials. They also extend to fans in the stands, who often will be read a similar statement about biased language and behavior over the loudspeaker before games.

The crackdown is in response to an incident last year after accusations of racial taunting at a Thanksgiving football game between two competing NJ high schools.

Following that incident, complaints were sent to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the state’s Division on Civil Rights.  Together with the Attorney General’s office, the groups met to expand the NJSIAA’s Sportsmanship Rule and define harsher penalties.

Referees will not only warn coaches and team captains of the rules against certain conduct and discriminatory language, but the rules “will also extend to fans in the stands, who often will be read a similar statement about biased language and behavior over the loudspeaker before games,” reported the Star Ledger.

The exact statement that will be read by officials to team captains at the beginning of a game is as follows, according to a document posted at the NJSIAA website:

“There will be no tolerance for negative statements or actions between opposing players or coaches.  This includes taunting, baiting, berating opponents or ‘trash talking’ or actions which ridicule or cause embarrassment to them.  It also includes harassing conduct related to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or religion.  If such comments are heard, a penalty will be assessed immediately.  We have been instructed not to issue warnings.  It is your responsibility to remind your team of this policy.”

While the expansion in rules is well intended, it’s also likely to present difficulties in determining what crosses the line and warrants harsher punishment.  And that’s a challenge that has some concerned, according to the Star Ledger.

Some coaches and fans say a sufficient sportsmanship rule was already in place to safeguard against vicious language, and they worry that the new rules could lead to an increase in quick player ejections by officials asked to make judgment calls on what they hear on the field. Some fear the NJSIAA is trying to completely eliminate even innocent, competitive trash talking and cheering.

“For some reason, people think it was out of control,” St. Peter’s Prep football coach and athletic director Rich Hansen said. “So putting another rule in place, to me, doesn’t necessarily fix the issue.”

In addition to the rules set forth by the NJSIAA, public schools are already obligated to enforce additional rules under the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, which prohibits harassment, intimidation and bullying on school property or at school sponsored functions, according to the NJSIAA document.