Sports racism incident being investigated
Mother speaks out on the topic
Last updated 3/9/2022 at 7:44am
It’s the year 2022, and racism is still an issue that children face at school.
Following a report of racist behavior at a basketball game in Okanogan, the school district there has been investigating the matter, and a report is anticipated to be done later this week.
Lady Raiders Assistant Coach Matthew Pleasants reported that while he was reviewing video of a Feb. 18 game in Okanogan, he noticed that some fans at the game had made monkey noises while a Lady Raider who is African American and a tribal member was shooting free throws.
Pleasants detailed to The Star other incidents of racist behavior at other high school games, including Lake Roosevelt games and games that didn’t include LR.
Following that article, The Star received a joint statement from Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Paul Turner and Okanogan Superintendent Ashley Goetz.
“The article immediately presumes the allegations brought against Okanogan fans to be true,” that statement reads, not mentioning that the incident was caught on video.
The statement goes on to say the superintendents are disappointed in a “lack of transparent reporting with The Star,” and further says that the incident is being investigated.
Goetz told The Star Monday that the investigative report is currently being compiled and is anticipated to be done later this week.
She said the manner in which the investigation is conducted will also be described in the report.
“In matters such as this, where there is video proof that can clearly demonstrate what was done,” Pleasants said about the two school districts’ response to the Okanogan situation, “the slow response, lack of transparency regarding the status of the investigation is discouraging.
“[Reporting the incident to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association] was mulled on because of the genuine concern that it would be ignored or swept under the rug, while also not being sure of the repercussions that may come from it,” Pleasants said. “To my current knowledge, WIAA did reach out to notify me on Feb. 28th that the report was received, and the investigation was occurring between the two districts. A quick resolution would have been ideal, especially when there is video available.”
Two days after the article was published, Pleasants said that band members of La Conner High School, which LR played in the state tournament in Spokane on March 4, also made monkey noises while a Lady Raider was shooting free throws.
He said that those noises are never made when players who aren’t black are shooting free throws.
Pleasants said that “the administration that was in attendance did provide a resolution to the situation immediately, once it was reported.”
He said the monkey noises get dismissed by some as being “dog barks,” and that he has heard that excuse before surrounding similar incidents in the state.
“This has been a consistent theme across the state of Washington when it comes to degrading players of color,” he said. “This has happened to other teams and most recently earlier this year at Capital High School.”
Kara Finley, the mother of a Lady Raider who has been a target of racist behavior at games, commented on the situation in an email to The Star.
“Every person of color should have a right to walk in their lives without this type of attention or fear of mistreatment,” she wrote. “Actions of this nature are inexcusable. My family’s feelings about the situation are valid and shouldn’t be downplayed or taken for granted. We’re trying to get through the anger, hurt and embarrassment this has brought us. Now, we’re choosing to concentrate on the things we have control over by using this situation as a platform for change.”
“WIAA has a history of not taking a strong stance on racism, which is not ok,” she continued. “They continuously miss the mark. They depend on the schools to investigate, but in my experience, an investigation is only as good as the investigator. What happens if the investigator doesn’t take it seriously? Investigations can be biased. There aren’t any rules or sanctions in place, that I’m aware of, by WIAA for these types of actions. However, they have no problem with placing clear rules on schools and players for club ball. Why don’t they focus their energy on this subject as well? It’s more important than whether a player gets special treatment because their club team game conflicts with the school team’s travel schedule. They’re holding schools and players to a standard but it’s not one that makes them better humans. WIAA and the schools need to look at the bigger picture here. Their lack of acknowledgement and action speaks volumes. Families, like mine, are left with picking up the pieces of the damage they could help have control over.
“I’ve been disappointed in this process repeatedly,” Finley continued. “In a conversation with the Grand Coulee Dam (school district) superintendent, he explained the race of the kid from La Conner. What does that have to do with anything? People of color can still have stereotypes of other human races. It’s inappropriate and naive to assume they don’t. That response alone tells me that he’s inexperienced and could use some training of his own. Just because someone has a friend or knows someone of a certain protected class doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to apply stereotypes or say racist stuff.
“My kids have experienced this in their school,” she went on to say. “When they told the people it’s racist, those students’ response to my kids was that my kids are being sensitive and cry babies. I shouldn’t have to validate my kids’ feelings. My kids have a right to feel the way they do about being called a chicken eater, watermelon eater, or black nerd. One of my children was told they do not belong at their school because of the color of their skin. There needs to be sensitivity training on this subject for the staff and students. I’m relying on school administrators, who do not have the slightest experience on what it feels like to be a person of color, to make decisions about issues that are traumatizing those same population groups.”
Pleasants said more on the topic as well.
“Standing up for the right thing in our communities is a challenge when the voices that need to be heard are often the ones with little support,” he said. “In my opinion, the current measures put in place by WIAA to address the issue have not been enough, and I think the original punishment handed out to Connell High School for their incident with Zillah was ideal.”
Pleasants was referring to an incident in May of 2021 in which Connell fans made racist jeers towards a Zillah player, resulting in the South Central Athletic Conference banning Connell fans from attending games for the rest of the year, keeping both their boys’ and girls’ teams from postseason participation, and the school itself choosing not to allow its own students to attend games.
Pleasants said those measures were “a good zero-tolerance starting point.”
“Additionally,” Pleasants said, offering solutions to the issue, “a regular, ongoing and consistent anti-racism curriculum and implicit bias training for administrators, faculty and staff to include all completion by all coaching staff prior to their assumption of coaching duties will impact students and athletes in a positive and progressive manner necessary to overcome racism and bias.”
“I’m not saying all of the community is guilty of what some people choose to do,” he continued, “but when they are a part of your community, it is your responsibility to address racism, bigotry, and ignorance when it is around. Standing by and not saying anything is only sending the message that it is okay. As Dr. Ibram X. Kendi states, the opposite of racism is not not-racism, it is anti-racism. Athletics have long been billed as the place where we can all come together as team and community. Consistent and ongoing anti-racism efforts in high school athletics are a must if we are to heal in our classroom, in our communities, and as a country.”