Football Team Hand Gesture Reignites Debate on LGHS Rape Culture

Los Gatos anti-sexual violence activists and football players address gesture known as “two-in-it.”

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LGHS writers

The Los Gatos High School football team poses for a post-game photo, displaying the sexual hand gesture.

LOS GATOS, CA — In the wake of last summer’s #MeToo movement at Los Gatos High School, community members have expressed concern about a sexually explicit hand signal openly used by members of the football team. 

Wildcat football players have been documented displaying the gesture — which they refer to as “two-in-it” — in public settings like school dances and town events.  

The hand gesture, commonly known as “the shocker,” references a specific sexual act involving digital penetration; the gesture consists of holding the ring finger down with the thumb while pressing the middle and index fingers together. Photos and videos dating back to 2019 depict LGHS football players throwing up the hand sign in Instagram posts and during public events like the annual Los Gatos Holiday Parade. Despite the postponement of the football season due to COVID-19, the gesture is still prevalent on social media. Online, athletes reference the gesture with certain phrases like “in the pink,” plays on words like “stink,” and emojis widely associated with sex.

Various LGHS players doing the explicit gesture, known as the “two-in-it”. (LGHS writers)

Players’ views and advocates’ criticism

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a football player who graduated last year stated that the gesture “never had any sort of sexual connotation among football players.” He contended that the gesture originated as “an homage” to Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram, who popularized the gesture in a viral post-game interview. Ingram and NFL MVP Lamar Jackson referred to the gesture as “big truss.”

The player added that the phrase “two-in-it” came from the symbolism surrounding the number two.

“The number two was symbolic to our team for multiple reasons, partially the fact that we would be the second CCS championship since the head coaching change earlier in the decade,” the player said. “Another big reason was the challenge we faced as a team to bring the two classes together as one. It came about organically, there was no meeting or anything to decide what our motto would be, we just kept winning as we said it, so it stuck. It was compounded by the fact that we won the Division II CCS championship and finished with a 12-2 record.”

In a separate interview, however, a football player from the class of 2021 said: “A few people were doing it before the big truss thing. It wasn’t like a team-wide thing; it was just between a few not-super-upstanding characters on the football team.” This player also wished to remain anonymous, wanting to avoid backlash from the team. 

Some LGHS football players claimed that the gesture was solely celebratory and did not have sexual connotations. (LGHS writers)

The player added that, after the gesture became more popular, the way players used it was “very context-dependent … and it also meant different things to different people.” For instance, “in a game where someone would get a touchdown and we’d all put the ‘two-in-it’ up, it wasn’t sexual. I’m sure for some people, there was a sexual implicit meaning, but it was not explicitly the sexual meaning.” 

“There are obviously bad apples who had a very different personal meaning for the gesture,” the player added, reflecting on how the Los Gatos community now perceives the gesture. “Any way you look at it, it was not the hand gesture that should have been used.”

In contrast with the former player’s statement that the gesture had “no sexual connotation,” the younger athlete said that the football coaches felt there was an implied sexual meaning. 

“[Krail] was not a fan of it,” he said, referring to Mark Krail, the head football coach at LGHS. After the football team won the CCS Championship in 2019, “Krail threatened to put the Picture Day team photo on the wall with the other CCS champs’ photos instead of the post-game photo, if we did [the gesture] in the post-game photo.”

Sophie Adams, a founder of the student organization From Survivors, For Survivors (FSFS) and the owner of the @metoolghs Instagram account, explained that her issue is not so much with the gesture itself, but instead with how it plays into the general culture at LGHS as well as the lack of accountability on the football team. 

“It’s not horrific. It’s not awful,” Adams said. “But it leads into the horrific and awful things that are happening that are also going unpunished. … Your team is your family. I get that. I was on a team. I love my team. I would defend my team. But when there’s an inherent issue in your team, and your response is to attack instead of even thinking for a moment, that shows a clear culture of just not listening, not thinking, not hearing anyone but yourself.” 

She added: “It bothers me that the coaches don’t take issue with it.”

“Possibly the worst part is that you know teachers and admin know that [the gesture means something] offensive,” FSFS co-founder and 2020 alumnus Gavin Finkle said. “If there was no such thing as a rape culture [at LGHS], that hand gesture would be shut down immediately.”

‘We are all complicit’

On Jun. 29, 2020, a single Instagram post published by a rising LGHS sophomore swiftly catalyzed a deep examination of a wider culture of enabling sexual abuse within LGHS and the surrounding community. Students, alumni and numerous other stakeholders soon mobilized via social media and in-person demonstrations to advocate for increased consent education, streamlined and updated Title IX policies, and more substantial punishments for students convicted of sexual harassment or assault.

Following the original Instagram post, which detailed sexual assault allegedly committed by an unnamed football player and the survivor’s ensuing emotional trauma, dozens of survivors within the LGHS community contributed personal testimonies to a public account with the username @metoolghs. The account published its first survivor testimony on Jul. 8; as of Mar. 13, the account has 237 posts. 118 are stories of sexual assault and harassment. Of the 118, 18 reference members of the school football team as perpetrating the harassment and/or assault.

After the creation of the account, a team that would grow to encompass 10 LGHS students and alumni, including Adams and Finkle, founded FSFS. The group describes its mission as creating “a safe space for survivors and allies” and pushing for students to be properly “equipped with the necessary tools to fully understand consent and healthy relationships.”

On July 7, Abbi Berry — an LGHS alumnus from the class of 2018 — also came forward as a survivor, then launched an email campaign demanding that the school football team implement a “zero-tolerance policy that takes action based on a survivor’s statement.” 

In an email to football players and their families following Berry’s email campaign, Krail addressed Berry’s demands, writing: “We have been labeled as a program with a culture of ‘toxic masculinity,’ and one that is shielded from consequences for an individual’s inappropriate behavior. … I find those statements to be untrue. … I, personally, am a believer in ‘the system.’ I hope that wherever the truth lies, it comes out. I have been asked through email and social media that I implement a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. I believe we have a zero-tolerance policy.”

In the same email, Krail added, “I am not saying that all football players always act as we would hope, and I fully understand that we cannot control or be responsible for all of the choices our players make, but I am fully committed to being a positive force in the improvement of the school culture.” 

Around the same time, Andrew Holland, an LGHS football coach and English teacher, responded to a staff-wide email chain that included a copy of Berry’s demands. 

Coach Andrew Holland refused to take responsibility for the “rape culture” in the LGHS football team. (LGHS writers)

Quoting Berry’s statement that “we are all complicit in this,” Holland replied in his own email to the staff: “Wrong. If this young lady has had something bad happen to her in the past, she should take it up with the individual who is responsible. You will excuse me if I take offense to receiving an email in the morning that is filled with the broad strokes of hurtful and inflammatory generalizations that have the potential to harm many innocent and hard-working individuals. I am politely asking to leave me off any mass emails of this kind.”

Holland could not be reached for comment. Krail declined a request for comment.

Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District Superintendent Mike Grove acknowledged the unrest in a school-wide email on Jul. 17, sharing: “We have begun an inquiry into the serious allegations made to sexual harassment and assault on our campuses. This inquiry will look into any specific allegations as well as broader perceptions regarding cultures of fear and silence or a culture that ‘allows’ inappropriate behavior.” Regarding district action on sexual harassment and/or assault, Grove also announced plans for the introduction of an anonymous crime reporting system called WeTip that the school would finalize in the fall of 2020.

A Jul. 26 sit-in organized by FSFS at the LGHS football field amassed hundreds of attendees who listened to student speakers and performers, including the survivor who sparked the movement with her Instagram post earlier that summer. Among the speakers was Sheila Pott, who lost her 15-year-old daughter, Audrie Pott, to suicide in 2012 after three male students sexually assaulted her at an off-campus party and circulated nude photos of her from that night without her consent. Audrie and two of her assailants attended Saratoga High School (SHS), located in the same district as LGHS. After Audrie’s death, all three boys confessed and served time in juvenile detention. 

Paul Robinson, who served as principal at SHS throughout the Audrie Pott case, began his term as interim principal at LGHS this school year. In 2015, the Audrie Pott Foundation shared a public statement expressing frustration with Robinson’s refusal to formally punish the perpetrators, writing: “After Audrie died, [the assailants] continued to ‘slut shame’ other minor female girls by disseminating nude or semi-nude pictures of them. Despite this, none of these assailants had to miss a single day of school and were permitted to fully participate in high school athletic programs.” Though tens of thousands of people rallied behind the Pott family’s pleas to punish these sex offenders, SHS still granted the two male students the privilege of walking across the stage at their graduation ceremony. 

Last July, Robinson participated in an interview with El Gato News, the LGHS student newspaper, to discuss student safety and the wider MeToo movement taking place in Los Gatos. During the video call, Robinson said, “I don’t necessarily believe that there is a rape culture at Los Gatos High School.” After receiving multiple emails from concerned viewers, he later clarified his perspective in a message to the community, stating, “I did not intend in any way to deny that sexual harassment and/or assault is a prevalent issue faced by many young women who attend LGHS. My intent was to say that these are issues that exist at the local, national, and global levels… I am also very concerned that we not paint an entire school or whole groups of students, such as all athletes, with a broad brush. To do so taints the many upstanding young women and men and staff members who do not accept or perpetuate the inappropriate behavior of some.”

Paul Robinson, principal at Saratoga High School, denied the existence of a “rape culture” at LGHS despite the prevalence of the gesture, in order to avoid “painting [athletes] with a broad brush”. (LGHS writers)
In February 2021, Robinson declined to comment regarding the school administration’s response to “two-in-it.”

Since the sexual violence advocacy movement started in the summer, several LGHS students have worked to advocate for an audit, brought to the table by former County Supervisor and current State Sen. Dave Cortese, that mandates a review of Title IX compliance at K-12 and postsecondary schools within Santa Clara County (SCC). After an initial delay and a student-organized protest directed at Supervisor Joe Simitian, who voted against passing the proposal on Sep. 22, the SCC Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the audit on Oct. 20. Supervisors also voted to double the initial budget for the investigation to a total of $1 million.

After the Board passed the referral, FSFS released a statement which read, “This is a landslide victory for local survivors and it gives us hope for the next generation of students in our area… Today, for the first time in a very long time, we can celebrate. Today, we took back our power.” 

Deeper implications

Despite recent strides made by survivors and advocates, Adams believes that the football coaches’ continued inaction regarding the sexual meaning of “two-in-it” is part of a deeply-ingrained sense of impunity among their athletes.

“What bothers me about [Krail] claiming to have a zero tolerance policy is that you see things like ‘two-in-it’… and then you go further, and you keep seeing more and more things like boys on a senior bus chanting very inappropriate things about freshmen at our school,” Adams said, in reference to a video that circulated among the student body earlier this summer. “And there’s a coach on the bus. And you don’t hear them say anything. … They are completely aware of this. It’s happening on the buses, in their CCS pictures. They know what it means… and they don’t say anything.”

In Adams’ eyes, enabling players to use “a gesture [coaches] know is meant to be lewd” is consistent with the coaches’ broader leniency towards misconduct. Many members of the LGHS JV and Varsity football teams can be seen drinking alcohol in photos and videos posted to students’ Snapchat and VSCO accounts. Although underage drinking is a violation of the LGHS Athletic Code of Conduct, Adams says she has witnessed the coaches repeatedly neglect to punish athletes for publicly breaking team rules. “[Players post] on their public stories of them drinking copious amounts of alcohol,” Adams stated. “And the coaches — they’re aware of this. I’ve heard them say word-for-word, ‘We know they go out and celebrate afterwards. As long as they’re safe, it’s fine.’”

The athlete from the class of 2021 said the football coaches “discouraged partying,” and that “It was generally not anything super extravagant when it was just team related. [However,] things got very wild at other parties.”

He commented: “The coaches aren’t stupid, but our lives outside of football are not their problem unless it begins to have an effect on our ability to be a member of the team and participate in the game,” adding that “they are not paid to babysit our lives.”

Regarding how she feels such complicity affects the current football team culture, Adams stated, “When they don’t say no to the little things, they stop feeling the need to say no to the big things.” 

Finkle feels “two-in-it” is a symptom of a “rape culture… that permeates every space of the school.”  

“There’s no excuse to be doing that in public or in private,” Finkle said. “There are so many other different gestures or things you can pick to be an inside joke. You really don’t have to pick that one. Women are completely within their rights to feel uncomfortable when somebody uses that gesture around them. It’s disrespectful.” 

In an interview, Jason Baumann, an LGHS 2019 alumnus and a former varsity football captain, also attested to the sexual connotations behind the gesture. 

“I think that the gesture should be condemned,” Baumann said. “I don’t think gestures like that — anything sexual — should be done by a football team as jokes or poses.” 

He elaborated that this behavior is problematic because “doing that kind of thing is teaching the younger guys — the freshman football players — to carry that on.” 

He also discussed what he viewed as negligence on the part of the football coaches as a contributing factor to the gesture’s presence on the team, emphasizing he feels “that coaches know a lot,” but he doesn’t know “if they think much of it because it’s the culture. It’s so normalized.”

“It’s not ‘MeToo versus football,’” Baumann stated. “Football should side with MeToo. Football should stand up against rapists. Sexual assaulters are not family anymore. Football should be semi-family-like, but you shouldn’t just allow bad things to go on.”