By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - While many professional athletes trash talk opponents with relish and humor, the state of New Jersey is not laughing and has banned such behavior at the high school level.
Under new rules high school athletes in the states can be ejected for taunting opponents as part of an anti-bullying initiative that athletic officials said could serve as a model for other states.
The state this month implemented a ban on taunts, profanity and biased language during refereed games, and as of Monday, 20 students have been disqualified from play, one for using a racial slur, said Larry White, an assistant director at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Along with the rules of their sports, referees are now required to enforce a list of banned words. They are required to report an athlete to the state governing body of high school sports should his or her language cross the line from competitive banter to profanity.
The policy calls for a player who uses a swear word to be tossed from the game. Players who use sexist, homophobic or racial epithets also could be referred to the state attorney general's civil rights office for additional action.
Coaches and officials have been provided with a list of banned words that can result in ejection from the field. Milder banter, that is not profane in nature, is tolerated under the policy.
Biased language "is not, and will not be tolerated in the classroom," said White. "Interscholastic sports is an extension of the classroom and thus that language must not be tolerated on the fields, on the courts, on the mats, on the rinks, wherever high school sports are played."
Though every state has a code of conduct for athletes and their language while on the field, the New Jersey's tough new enforcement could serve as a model, said Theresia Wynns, the director of sports and officials education at National Federation of State High School Associations.
"Other states are following it closely," Wynns said. "People are waiting to see what happens at the end of this year. It could definitely serve as a model."
Neighboring New York is discussing a policy to ban trash talk on social media, while California's Interscholastic Federation said it is "constantly adding new by-laws so a similar ban could very well be brought into play."
Florida officials said they are also watching how New Jersey's new policy plays out and could discuss a similar set of rules and enforcement with the help of the state government next year.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Bob Burgdorfer)