A proposed law advancing through the Legislature aims to toss discrimination and harassment out of high school sports — negative practices the lawmaker who sponsors the bill says he's all too familiar with as a head football coach.

"I felt helpless at games where my team has been unfairly penalized because of a stereotype," said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Bergen, whose legislation would require sensitivity training for high school coaches, athletic directors and officials.

Under the measure, the Department of Education would create a training program on topics including, but not limited to, gender and sexual orientation; race and ethnicity; disabilities; religious tolerance; unconscious bias; and diversity and inclusion. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association would require the training be completed every four years by coaches, athletic directors and officials at public and private schools.

According to Wimberly, head of the Hackensack High School football team, coaches and their players have become too comfortable using derogatory language towards their opposition.

"If it's accepted in your locker room, then they're going to do it," he said. "People just think they can say and do whatever they feel like."

NJSIAA said it's been working with Wimberly on the bill and is in support of the legislation.

The bill was approved on Jan. 29 by the Assembly Education Committee and is now waiting for further consideration by the Assembly Speaker.

The legislation was amended to include officials following a recent wrestling tournament at Buena Regional High School in Atlantic City during which a biracial student was required to cut his dreadlocks in order to compete.

"It's sad that in 2019 we're addressing this," Wimberly said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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