The upsetting truth about sexual harassment in high school sports
It’s more common than people think
by Mara Bowdle
Everyone who’s played high school sports know they can take over your life. Competing for state championships, recovering from injuries, fighting for top spots — it can be hard. So the last thing a team needs is a coach being overly demanding, or even inappropriate. Unfortunately, my experience on a volleyball team taught me that what we needed wasn’t always what we got. “What position am I playing today?” was often the least of my worries.
Flashback to my sophomore year, and everyone on my team was in low spirits after a lost volleyball match. We had to show up the next day for some conditioning to get us in better shape – that was the tradition after bad matches. When we showed up, our coach began drilling us hardcore. During one of these drills, the team had to shuffle around the court, drop into a low squat stance, and then go up to the net to work on blocking. As our team sweated to finish the shuffle lap and run to center court, our coach began to yell at us to squat lower. And lower.
You’d think that a request like that would be typical of a coach – surely he just wanted to train his players? But I stopped giving him benefit of the doubt pretty quickly. If you’ve played volleyball before, you’ll know that basic attire is usually a t-shirt and spandex. Volleyball spandex is generally short and can easily ride up on you, so when you’re moving around, you’ll have to fix them every so often. When your volleyball coach is forcing you to drop into a squat so low you can hardly balance, it’s harder to continue fixing your shorts since you have to do it every three seconds.
Our coach continued to yell at the girls to get lower, and I watched as they tried to fix their spandex to cover up, embarrassed. But before I could say anything, it was my turn to do the drill. I shuffled from one corner of the court to the other, then ran towards the center – I was hollered at to get lower before I even made it into the crouch position. At this point, I’d had enough and turned around, planning to ask my coach to stop when I saw his phone out, pointed directly at me and the rest of the team as we did our squats.
At first, I didn’t think much of it, but when he ended the drill and called the team over, that changed. With a weird smile on his face, he said: “Now, I know I didn’t ask for your guys’ permission, but I filmed you so we can review what you were doing wrong.” He showed us the footage – and my teammates looked on in horror.
Our coach had spent the training session filming the girls’ body parts. He focused on my teammate Amanda so only her breasts were in the frame. He zoomed in on me to show my thighs and butt, clearly about to come out of my spandex. He showed us clip after inappropriate clip, despite our obvious discomfort. Our coach said he deleted them – but he could have saved them in the ‘Recently Deleted’ file.
As he dismissed practice, I spoke to my teammates Katherine and Madison about it, and the three of us agreed that we’d confront one of the assistant coaches about the incident. We did – nothing happened. The coach continued to film us in training sessions without our permission.
While my story may seem shocking in some ways, it’s not unique. Babe dot net is currently listening to high school students who want to speak out about their experiences, and the stories have flooded in: A coach in Florida relocated his office to be next to the girls’ locker room, and would use any excuse to walk in. A coach in upstate New York asked his students to run in only their sports bras. A coach in North Carolina stared at girls and made inappropriate comments about their cleavage. A coach in Colorado invited only the “pretty players” over to his house for a barbecue. A coach in New Jersey protected his star football player from being disciplined when he bullied a classmate.
The number of high school girls getting sexually harassed on sports teams is staggering. You’ll find other people who have yet to come forward about being violated or feeling uncomfortable because of questionable behavior from coaches or even team members.
I want to use my story as a way to let people know one thing: speaking up is incredibly important. My mother, the strongest woman I know, never failed to advocate for herself and always told me to do the same. This is me advocating for not only myself, but the countless others who’ve gone through similar things and feel as though they have no voice.
You do have a voice. Never be afraid to use it.
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