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This is what we call being proactive!
Union High School head football coach Matt Labrum did something unorthodox last Friday night. He suspended all of his players because they lacked character.
The coach became aware of cyberbullying by the players and skipping class, so he took a stand. After their 40-16 loss, the coach told all oft he players to turn in their jerseys and that they had to earn a spot on the team. Labrum explained:
“We felt like everything was going in a direction that we didn’t want our young men going. We felt like we needed to make a stand. We looked at it as a chance to say, ‘Hey, we need to focus on some other things that are more important than winning a football game.’ We got an emotional response from the boys. I think it really meant something to them, which was nice to see that it does mean something. There was none of them that fought us on it.”
Parents were concerned about this at first, but after talking with the coaches, they all seemed to be in agreement that this needed to happen, especially to stop the bullying!
A mother of one of the players, Jenn Rook, said:
“They came out [of the locker room], and there were tears. Those boys were wrecked. My son got in the car really upset and (said), ‘First of all, there is no football team. It’s been disbanded.’”
And after she talked to the coach, she felt much better:
“OK, that’s not so bad then,. I do support it. These boys are not going to be hurt by this. It’s a good life lesson. … It’s not a punishment. I see it as an opportunity to do some good in the community.”
The next day, the coaches held a 7am meeting where players could prove themselves and get their spot on the team back.
At this meeting, Labrum talked about the student who had been bullied on ask.fm (and who the coach met with and apologized to). He had the players agree to hold each other accountable and it seemed to resonate.
Senior running back Gavin Nielsen talked about the meeting, saying:
“One of my weaknesses that I wrote down was that I wasn’t holding people accountable on the field and off the field. As a leader, on the field and off I have to hold people accountable.”
At the meeting, the players all got a letter from the coaches that laid out what they had to do to re-earn their spot on the team. Part of it read:
"The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field," the letter said. "It is a privilege to play this wonderful game! We must earn the opportunity to have the honor to put on our high school jerseys each Thursday and Friday night!"
Coach Labrum was rightfully impassioned about all of this, and said:
“We said, ‘We’ve got to make a change.’ We were pretty open with (the players) about what we’d heard. We don’t want that represented in our program. … Whoever it is (doing the bullying), we want to help get them back on the right path. It had gotten to a new level. We felt like we weren’t respecting the teachers, what they were trying to do inside the school, other people’s time. Overall, our program wasn’t going where we wanted it to go. We weren’t reaching the young men like we wanted to reach them. I think football molds character. We want to help our parents raise their sons. We want to be a positive influence. We want to be an asset.”
And in order to put all of these principles into practice right away, the team didn’t practice at all in preparation for their homecoming game the following week. Instead, Labrum had them do community service, go to study hall and perform something nice for their family.
And then write him a report on all of this do-gooding!
It’s fantastic that Labrum took the time and effort to teach these guys a lesson. In only a few years they’ll be in college or out in the workforce, and this will hopefully make them overall better people.
[Image via Amy Donaldson/Deseret News.]