Dave Maimaron, the head coach of the Duxbury, Massachusetts high school football team, condoned policies that made sport of the Holocaust. Then the town cut ties with him. Duxbury’s letter about the firing is evasive and defensive.
What happened in Duxbury
Imagine that you a high school football fan at a game between Duxbury and a rival team. The Duxbury quarterback lines up at the line of scrimmage, looks out at the other team, and shouts “Auschwitz!” followed by some other words.
What the hell is going on, you might rightly ask.
Just before the play in any football game, the quarterback can call an audible — that is, calling for the offense to change the play based on his read of the defense. For example, Peyton Manning was known for shouting “Omaha!” before plays in an NFL game.
The word that the offense uses to signal an audible is up to the team and the coaches. It has no significance — it’s just a code word that means “Listen up, I’m changing things.” The words that follow are a code understood only by the offense.
The players in Duxbury apparently decided that “Auschwitz” was a good code word to use, and apparently used other Jewish words like “rabbi” and “dreidel” in their audible codes.
What’s the problem with shouting “Auschwitz”? Well, it’s the site in Nazi-occupied Poland where Nazis murdered a million Jews and tens of thousands of others during the Holocaust. It is a word that instantly calls to mind the worst horrors humanity has ever committed in the name of bigotry and religious hatred. No Jew can hear that word without connecting it to that horror.
It’s an insensitive and offensive choice as a shouted code-word in a football game. Imagine a football game in Connecticut where the players shouted “Sandy Hook! Sandy Hook!” or a game with Cambodian immigrants in the stands where the players exclaimed “Pol Pot!” before every play.
Some words are just too loaded with emotional and racial baggage to be used in such a cavalier way.
The coach is gone
Once this practice hit the news, it was pretty clear that the coach would be canned. He may not have originated the players’ plan, but he certainly was aware of it and failed to stop it.
Here’s what the school officials of the town of Duxbury wrote, with my analysis. I’ve added italics not in the original to indicate questionable word choices.
Dear Duxbury Community,
We want to provide a follow-up to our message on Monday regarding the Duxbury Football program. First, we want to be perfectly clear that we recognize how serious this is, and it is getting our undivided attention. We also recognize that this is an emotionally-charged issue for our community, and many outside of our community. The outrage is real, warranted, and we hear it. The fact that members of our school community used such offensive language, including anti-Semitic language, is horrifying and disappointing. We are collaborating with the Anti-Defamation League regarding the seriousness of the allegations, and on our short-term and long-term response.
This is a strong start, promising understanding and action. It lacks an apology, though, which is a glaring flaw.
Before we share more information with you, please find below two very important announcements:
First, as of today, Duxbury has severed ties with Dave Maimaron as Head Football Coach.
Second, in collaboration with the Hingham administration, a decision has been made to cancel the varsity football game scheduled for Friday night, as well as the JV and Freshman games scheduled for Saturday and Monday. A decision about future games and the fate of the football season will be made at a later date.
Now the questions begin about these “very important announcements.”
First, was the coach fired or did he resign?
And second, who made the decision to cancel the games, and who will make the decision about future games? The passive verbs that I’ve shown in italics are classic examples of evasion. The superintendent, or whomever is responsible for making the decision, should take responsibility. This would be a good place to use “we,” meaning the school officials who wrote the letter.
We know from many conversations, emails, and online posts that many people want action now, and we appreciate that sentiment. However, we are still in the middle of an active investigation and it is important that we get accurate information and facts in this case. To this end, the District has hired Edward R. Mitnick of Just Training Solutions, LLC to assist us in conducting a full investigation of all of the allegations made against the program in the most expeditious manner possible. Mr. Mitnick is an experienced attorney and investigator, and has provided services to employers throughout the United States for over thirty years.
This promises action. By why use “we” to describe hiring the investigator but avoid it in describing who is making decisions?
Our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Although this most recent issue has brought many concerns to light, please know that the Duxbury Public Schools has, in recent years, shone a spotlight on the need to promote antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in our public schools. In short, we had already identified this as a top priority before this week. Among other things, it is a key component of our Strategic Plan and the basis of the work of our Antiracism Task Force. Furthermore, we have established partnerships and regular communication with a number of community groups who share our commitment to this work, such as Duxbury For All, the Interfaith Council, and Duxbury Rotary, just to name a few. We will rely on these relationships as we work to ensure that members of the school community understand the importance of inclusion and respect.
John Antonucci, Superintendent
Danielle Klingaman, Assistant Superintendent
Patrick Dillon, Chief Human Resources Officer
James Donovan, High School Principal
Here, the letter goes a bit soft and defensive. It’s all well and good that Duxbury has taken action before against racism. But that action has clearly failed if the football players are shouting the names of concentration camps at football games. The more the school officials write about how effective their antiracism actions are, the less effective they seem.
It’s not that they’ve done the wrong thing. It’s that their defensive and repetitive chest-beating about doing the right thing feels is a bit much in this instance.
A tip for writing under stress
This is a crisis communication that could be far better.
First, apologize to the people you hurt. In this case, that’s Jews.
Second, describe clearly what you will do.
Third, avoid defensive language, which will backfire.
This letter came close, and the town is clearly doing the right thing. A bit more attention to the statement would have made a significant improvement.