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Is Forcing Students to Run Laps a Form of Corporal Punishment?

Were you ever forced to run laps as a form of punishment by a sports coach or physical education teacher back when you were in school? Did you ever consider that a form of corporal punishment?

The Des Moines (Iowa) school district is currently asking itself that very question after the Des Moines Register published an investigative report by the district into the practices of Lincoln High School football coach Tom Mihalovich.

According to the report, Mihalovich allegedly "hazed and bullied" former Lincoln High sophomore Dante Campero after he posted a tweet that was critical of the school's varsity football program. The coach allegedly made the player stand in front of the entire varsity team and recite what he wrote, while allowing the varsity team to "direct threatening statements and derogatory remarks" toward Campero for 30 seconds to one minute.

The report also alleges that Mihalovich forced Campero to run for roughly one hour without a water break, continuing to "add drills to [his] punishment with the intent of making him quit the football team." The coaches said the running only lasted between 15 and 20 minutes. According to Mihalovich's account, assistant coach L.J. Gramblin was the one who came up with the idea to make Campero run as punishment, but the head coach gave his blessing.

According to eyewitness accounts, Campero completed at least 20 hill sprints, 20 up-downs, two laps around the practice field, and an "undetermined number of hill sprints," with a four-play (roughly four-minute) break between each drill. During the second set of hill sprints, all parties reported that assistant coach Kevin Johnston approached Campero and told him, effectively, that he'd be kicked off the team if he couldn't finish the drills.

The district's report concluded that Mihalovich was guilty of violating the district's bullying/harassment policy, while the physical punishment "imposed on [Campero] by Gamblin, enforced by Johnston and approved by [Mihalovich] was unreasonable and constitutes corporal punishment."

The district's student-discipline policy defines corporal punishment as "application of physical pain as a method of changing behavior," according to the report. "It includes a wide variety of methods such as ... use of excessive exercise drills," the report says.

By the letter of the law, if the allegations are true, it's pretty clear that this incident falls under the district's definition of corporal punishment. Mihalovich already issued a statement through a lawyer calling the release of the report "legally and ethically unacceptable," saying he "disagrees with many of the statements and the credibility of some of the witnesses."

Regardless of what happens with this specific case, it speaks to a larger conundrum: the idea of physical activity as punishment. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education released a position statement in 2009 that says it's "inappropriate" to administer or withhold physical activity as a form of punishment and/or behavior management.

For the life of me, I can't remember where I saw this, but someone recently tweeted something along the same lines. If physical activity is construed as punishment, should we really be surprised that kids these days are more obese than ever?

Much like football's culture change around concussions, perhaps a culture change around the use of physical activity as punishment is needed to help turn around the U.S. youth-obesity crisis?

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