Waymon Hudson

High School Hand Holding as Punishment... with a Dash of Internalized Homophobia

Filed By Waymon Hudson | October 20, 2009 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: Aurora Public School, bullying, Colorado, football game, internal homophobia, LGBT youth

The Advocate has a brief story up on a Colorado high school football coach who made two players hold hands and run together as punishment during a recent practice:

holding-hands~s600x600.jpgOfficials from the Aurora Public Schools say they are investigating the claims that Coach Grant Pippert told freshmen Rafael Merced and another student to hold hands and run together after a brief altercation. The two were taunted by their teammates, who called them derogatory names. Merced told KMGH-TV News that he felt the experience was humiliating.

The other students jeered and called them gay, and the teasing continued throughout the week. The school system is investigating.

This act is bad enough- using the perceived "eww-factor" of same-sex affection and solidifying anti-gay attitudes in kids.

What caught me more off guard, however, were some of the comments from Advocate readers...

Here's a sample of a few of the responses:

I personally don't see anything wrong with the idea. i do agree with the coach in that this a form of discipline: "no guy would want to hold hands with another guy at any time for no reason" and they are not GAY. so doing this is one way to look at the coach keeping the team in unity. team players, on the other hand, may not like the idea so they will do what is right so the coach wont have to use this measure.

Don't see anything wrong here except for the Coach not reprimanding the students who were taunting the two holding hands. Where's the punishment for that?

In a weird way, I like this. I doubt the coach had anything other than using homophobia to humiliate two of his players, and that's nothing new. I'm guessing, though, that those players got a good taste of how even the simplest expression of affection between two men can bring derision and shame to them. It's a great, great lesson for them on how hard it is to be out.

I'm really hoping that the vast majority of readers see the problem of using homophobia as a lesson in "team building."

To give passes to educators reinforcing hyper-macho, anti-gay attitudes because "no guy want to hold hands with another guy" is incredible disturbing.

I'm guessing that the players involved and those watching the two guys holding hands as punishment weren't thinking "gosh, this must be what gays go through." Instead, they were seeing "gay=gross" and something worthy of ridicule and shame- all with their coach's stamp of approval.

I also don't understand the idea that the actual punishment of "yucky gay hand holding" isn't bad, just the coach not stopping the other players from teasing them. The whole idea behind the punishment was to embarrass and humiliate the two boys because of underlying homophobia. You can't create the anti-gay situation and then be surprised when others follow your lead and act out.

So what makes some in the community shrug their shoulders at actions like this? Internalized homophobia? Self loathing? Not thinking before commenting?

Perhaps a little bit of everything.

Acts like what this coach did are extremely damaging. I'm sure it was the talk of the school- the two big football players holding hands like fags. I can only imagine the effect this had on LGBT students at the school. Take the ridicule the two players felt and quadruple it to an actual LGBT kid. The other players saw the "punishment" as a homophobic joke and still reacted with bullying and jeers under the watchful eye of their coach. What would their reaction be if it was a real gay student holding hands with another boy- would the bullying stop at jeers or escalate to something more violent?

These are lessons in hate and intolerance we should be fighting against, not excusing and glazing over. The acts of intolerance themselves are dangerous moments that teach anti-LGBT animus. How we react (or condone) as a community is a lesson to young people as well, perhaps a stronger lesson than the homophobic act itself.

Internalized homophobia is a powerful thing. What many in the community have had to live with and hear in their lives have left their scars. But we can't allow the next generation of of LGBT youth to carry those same burdens by cultivating self-loathing and excusing hate.

There is no excuse for homophobia.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Michael McKeon | October 20, 2009 7:46 PM

This is some homophobic bullshit. These folks need sensitivity training.

Not at all a good idea. Homophobia is a severe issue in most school settings as it is, without a school staff member using it to humiliate and embarrass. Terrible.

I agree that is a bunch of BS! Ugh! Somethimes I just want to pull my hair out when I read such things!

I agree that is a bunch of BS! Ugh! Somethimes I just want to pull my hair out when I read such things!

Great post - you hit the nail on the head. Some days, I see things like this and it's hard not to think that internalized homophobia is a bigger problem for our community than external homophobia.

A few points:

To the poster who said "its a great lesson" and suggested it teaches something, they obviously barely scraped by in psych 101 in college.

When you use a negative to reinforce a negative, you get a negative. What this coach was doing was actually creating future opponents -- and creating an emotional point of shame that has the potential for sparking a violent reaction, depending on other factors.

The comments come not merely from a potentially internalized sense of homophobia, but from a lack of empathy for the situation on the part of the commenters.

It is easy to empathize for those like ones self.

NOt so easy to empathize otherwise.

As a movement, to succeed, we need to learn to empathize more with people who aren't our own -- because we can't even get over our own inability to do so within our movement until we do.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 20, 2009 11:39 PM

Olympic runners train holding hands as practice to pass a torch.

From a practical perspective these are 14-15 year old kids Waymon, (high school freshman) not "two big football players." They had been OK fighting one another in public (now THAT is what they should have been embarrassed about and the coach successfully embarrassed them) and I do get it that there could have been overtones of homophobia. Kids this age will look for anything. Considering the name you mention there could have been an element of racism as the cause of the scuffle. Do you highlight and reward the racism or do you use it?

If you are a coach you either let the kids with the hottest heads run your team or you elect to run your team. Being on a football team is not a requirement to graduate from high school. It is an extra curricular activity that grants prestige to it's participants. You have to pay to play sometimes.

The coach could have sent them both out of the team practice for the day where they would have met up and kept fighting later. He could have sent them to the principals office for fighting and given them a three to five day pass from school and practice "to cool off," which really would have created more resentment, less education and more fighting later.

Yes, he likely embarrassed them, and their 14-15 year old teammates jeered them. This is also the sort of thing that is quickly forgotten by kids. Geeze a week of being razzed. Kids this age will tease about anything and if it was not this it would have been something else. I bet they will neither fight one another in future or ignore the coaches instructions. These two kids will probably become good friends.

Unfortunately one of them (using his hot head) told a parent (who made a phone call) and in our litigation happy culture the school will run for cover.

Are we also going to outlaw three legged races? I have known coaches to use them to build team identity too.

Life is not fair and not all things that have a homophobic outcome had a homophobic intention.

These kids weren't training to pass an Olympic torch. They were made to hold hands to humiliate them and to encourage their teammates to taunt them. There's a vast difference.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 21, 2009 5:50 AM

They were also not participating in a mandatory activity. Either one or both of them could have either walked away or not fought in the first place.

Except 1-It is mandatory if they want to stay on the team and many students DO make a college career out of sports. and 2- mandatory or not doesn't make this any less of an excercise in homophobia. How you can excuse this just because "well they didn't need to be there, so stupid them" is beyond me. The coach was very clearly using this as a means to say "You two need to be shamed, so hold hands like a couple sissies."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 21, 2009 11:01 AM

If they want to stay on the team they would have not fought in the first place. That too is a discriminatory and repressive behavior and I outline above (if you read it) that they could have been tossed off the team for their behavior, given five day suspensions and so forth.

You are choosing to excuse fighting while you denounce homophobia. Also to suggest that 15 year old high school players are college scholarship material begs the question. If you read the "Advocate" article and looked at the responses to it you will also see that the coach later apologized for the behavior which will probably mean in future that students fighting will automatically be removed from his team. Why should he take the risk? So the future boys who want to make and stay on the team and get thrown off will endure a week of razzing for being idiots. I do not think that is a preferable outcome, but on the cruel altar of correctness you must think it is. The coach also stated, as reported in the Advocate article, that it was an exercise in team building. OK, so it was a misunderstood exercise.

I have played team sports and I have sponsored little league teams with boys in the same age bracket. "Ganshorn & Asssociates Inc." went all city in Chicago in 1999. They are all hard on one another and it is the constant job of coaches to keep the kids focused on team goals rather than personal ones.

Team players know that life is not always fair. Not all things with a homophobic outcome have a homophobic intention.

This is really gross. Using homophobia to teach a lesson about teamwork? Meaning, if you dont follow the team rules, we're going to shame you with homophobic taunts, force you to have non consensual physical contact with another student (else be removed from the team, most likely) and then face a week or more of taunts based on that non consensual contact until you do. How can that not = shitty?

Robert Ganshorn said "Not all things with a homophobic outcome have a homophobic intention.". That's true, but certainly not in this case lol. How is there not homophobic intent when the coach makes the players hold hands and run together, then allows (i.e. encourages via his position of authority) homophobic jeers and harassment?

This is all around just shitty, and that anyone is defending it ... just boggles the mind.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 21, 2009 9:14 PM

Gee, I guess that makes life not fair. Sorry!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 24, 2009 9:18 AM

vas you dere Charlie?

Who's excusing fighting? There are many, MANY ways the coach could have disciplined the players without resorting to homophobia. Just because you disagree with the form of the punishment doesn't mean you condone the behavior being punished.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 21, 2009 9:16 PM

You are presuming homophobia, I am presuming an error of judgment that is being interpreted as homophobia. Don't spend you life looking to be a victim.


I played football for 2 years in HS and never ever had a coach use homophobia to motivate. Nor did we have a homophobia problem. You can be a winning team, do awesome on the field, have unity and discipline WITHOUT using hate or ignorance. Who'dathunk?

I came out after I screwed up my ankle so bad I couldn't 'play' anymore (not that I did see much game time when I WAS 100%!) But after coming out, not a one of my friends from my team expressed anything but support for me. Had I come out while still on the team, I'm pretty confident it would have been the same way. The atmosphere set there in the lockerroom was one of tolerance and respect.

Teaching/coaching 101: You pit the kids against one another, YOU loose and so do they. Whether that be through homophobia or whatever. You create an atmosphere of support and respect, you'll win trophies like we did.

I'm just saying, this coach probably doesn't win a lot.

Robert, your reasoning is really strange, in my opinion. It's as if the coach's only two choices were letting the kids get away with fighting or employing an obviously homophobic (in intention and outcome) punishment. In reality, he had dozens of choices. I am the director of a magnet program in an inner-city high school. Most of my kids are involved in athletics, and I've never heard this sort of story from any of them. And if it did happen, my terrific principal would straighten it all out long before it hit the press. It sounds to me like that school could use a bit of a shake-up.

When I started reading this, I interpreted it as the coach having taken two kids who were fighting and made them run with each other to get over their differences, put up with each other, and learn to work together. I'd also like to think that that's what he means when he says he intended it as a team-building exercise. It's a little worrying that he didn't speak up about the teasing (if, in fact, he didn't - the article doesn't say anything about that) but that doesn't mean he condones it - if I'd been in the same situation I probably would've just shared a look and an eye roll with the guys being teased and ignored it.

I'm seeing way more homophobia from the parents, peers, and media than from the coach, who may have actually just intended it as a team-building exercise between the two players. For that, he definitely shouldn't be suspended or fired.

PS, Robert, if those kids had gotten kicked off the football team in high school, a college considering them for a football scholarship would find out about it and it would hugely impact their chances. It has nothing to do with whether or not "15 year old high school players are college scholarship material".

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 21, 2009 9:39 PM

Michelle, among the dozens of ways Eli has not listed that students can be disciplined is for the team group not to talk to them. That is worst case punishment for young teens. Being razzed by your fellow team mates and teased in regular classes for a week following screwing up is very normal. In case you do not remember mid teen kids are pretty cruel.

And Michelle, I was not advocating kicking the kids off the team at all. The coach would have been within his rights to have done it though. The real answer to this is that none of us was there to 1. Observe the severity of the fighting or its root cause. 2. Observe the degree, if any, of jeers from the fellow team mates at the time. 3.Observe the degree of any classroom teasing afterward which is impossible to quantify anyway.

In short we are throwing darts in a dark room.

I am surprised that no one has mentioned Columbine High School (also in Colorado) as an example of what can really go wrong when people are truly ostracized. Nothing serious went wrong here.

What I was trying to say is that the coach may not have intended it as any kind of punishment or discipline, and then may not have really thought about what he was asking the kids to do. I saw it as him trying to say "hang on to each other and stay together" rather than "hold hands like a couple sissies". All I meant was that we shouldn't necessarily jump to homophobia right away (there is some in the situation overall, but there might not have been any in the coach's intent). For the record, if he is being honest about it being a team-building exercise, I think we should be giving him credit for trying to solve the problem in a unique way rather than just punishing them both and creating resentment over it.

"In case you do not remember mid teen kids are pretty cruel."
I'm 17, my memory's not that bad :P (...yet). Yeah, the kids are cruel, but that doesn't mean the coach was thinking about that. It could easily have been an honest mistake on his part if he just wasn't thinking about how immature the rest of the team would be.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 23, 2009 7:19 AM

Michelle you are very mature and well reasoned. You were making the same point I was trying to make and I apologize for missing it.

Could be my old age catching up with me, but it will be just our secret OK? :)

I actually agree with this punishment. Aurora is about a 10 min drive from my home, and the way I see it, kids in aurora public schools need more "punishment" like this....it might actually in the end help in ending the BS homophobia in our nation....If I were the coach, id do it again!

I am a marching band instructor for the public school working with this age group. All that I can say is that if one of our coaches, teachers or instructors was found to have done something like this he or she would be fired.
Unacceptable in every way.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 22, 2009 5:34 AM

Do you not agree that there are distinct differences between Colorado and Massachusetts where you teach? Also differences in the kids who go out for band and football?

I had a schoolyard scrape and our teacher sent both of us to the principal immediately to sort us out. We sat in the waiting area to learn our fate and we both came in angry. Within ten minutes we were laughing with one another over how stupid we had been to fight at all. The principal arrived when were were laughing together. Principal LeDuke told us we had screwed up and not to do so again, and to be good friends to one another, and we have stayed friends to this day.

As I recall we were not even paddled, but we could have been.

Today, we would require two psychologists, two lawyers to follow them around, a police officer to write a report and a raft of paperwork to accomplish what could have been accomplished with common sense.

Teachers and students are not perfect. Cut the coach some slack please.

When I said coaches I was talking about our sports teams where this also would not be allowed not just in marching band.
Yes there is a difference in the location but I don't think that it should be used to say that what the coach did was ok.
I have four sons, one of them is gay, three of them are not. I can imagine how this would have humiliated my straight sons, but were this to have been done to my gay son as a freshman that would have been horrible. What if there is a gay or bi kid on the team? How would he have fared? What damage would be done to that kid? I played football in HS and I was dating boys, luckily our coaches didn't use homophobia as a tool (I was in Texas at the time). One of our coaches occasionally made jokes but the were not degrading or hurtful and they ranked right there with the jokes he would make relative to straight guys and girlfriends. Our coaches conducted themselves as though they were pretty sure they were addressing a mixed orientation class.
That should be the standard for a teacher because a coach for football or a marching band instructor are still teachers.
Our head coach once caught two of our players in the locker room skipping class and 'showering' together it was handled quietly though the administration was kind of heavy handed toward the young men.

In a similar category: Calling team members "girls" as a ragging insult. It's not fun for the boys in the locker room, and it's even less fun for the closeted trans girl in the locker room. I remember that happening in high school gym class as well as the homophobic shaming, and it's truly disgusting behavior.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 22, 2009 5:18 AM

Jamie, I fully agree with you. I thought the last Neanderthal who would do this had died in the 1970's.

Unfortunately this crap is alive and well. My experiences happened around 1996.

I remember our head coach once joking around with one of our seniors who was male but tended to be effeminate and who certainly clipped on my gaydar as being headed for trans. He got everyone laughing but not in a denigrating or hurtful way but in more of an accepting 'what is' sort of way. It kind of came out as "we don't don't care as long as you play your position well" way.