By now I’m sure you’ve received a number of emails regarding the accusation of deeply racist events between La Grande High School and Gladstone High School. At least, I very much hope you have.
It is 3:30 a.m. and I cannot sleep until I’m sure I can convey the depth of my concern.
Football is a heated sport. Any high school sport that has reached a playoff gets heated. Intensity and competitive taunts are one thing, racial slurs are another. To be clear, one is an enthusiasm associated with the drive to win, whereas slurs? Slurs are assault. Not just a societal “no-no” but verbal assault. The use of the n-slur is the perpetuation of violence, centuries of violence against Black communities. What may seem like a “bad word” to a teenager is just the tip of the iceberg of white supremacy.
We know OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber has stated they are investigating the alleged incident, working with both school districts to “determine next steps.” Let’s be real — there is little to investigate. The entire Gladstone football team, plus coaches, plus parents wouldn’t just fabricate an encounter with racism over a high school football game.
You, the members of the La Grande School District, deep down, know as well as I do, no one is crying wolf. The Black community has no reason to lie about being on the receiving end of overt racism. They encounter it every day.
As far as I’m concerned, the allegations have no reason to be doubted.
The actions of the white student athletes against Black athletes from Gladstone was an act of white supremacy. These were not just the innocent mistakes of children. This was a deeply prejudiced act that did not even faze an entire team of young adults. Can you imagine being on the receiving end of that verbal abuse? Playing through an entire game, keeping your teammates together while having the most violent word that exists against your community being thrown in your face? Black kids deserve better. People of color deserve safety. Black lives, their daily lives, matter. The athletes from LHS knew they could get away with calling students of color the n-slur, a degrading, derogatory term just to get under their skin for the sake of a game. The coaches, assistant coaches and referees let them. And when the coaches and parents of the Gladstone athletes tried to call attention to repeated verbal attacks? No action was taken.
This is not some isolated incident. White supremacy, in all its vulgarity, gets passed to teenagers from their parents, who inherited their bigotry from their parents. The ideology that if you are white, you can get away with doing, with saying anything you want to those deemed a minority, without consequences, is ingrained.
As much as we, white Americans, would like to think people of all colors and cultures are treated with equality in 2021, we’re only blinding ourselves with denial. White supremacy is alive and well. It is in our valley and it is only getting bolder and louder over time. And if the people perpetuating racism are not exposed, are not held fully accountable, that perpetuation will continue infecting our community, and directly harm the people of color who set foot in our valley. We cannot brush past this. We cannot just let this go.
The question now is, how do you, the school district, a core part of our community, plan on holding the athletic department responsible for this grave occurrence, if the OSAA does indeed present irrefutable evidence to the truthfulness of the accusations? How is Athletic Director Darren Goodman planning on addressing the situation? How would head coach Rich McIlmoil, and assistant coaches Dalton Sheets, Matt Wolcott, Michael Fields, Mike Schireman and Robert Gillies be reprimanded? What are the “next steps” to be taken from the OSAA? What consequences would the football players responsible for hurling racial slurs be facing?
Make a habit of holding your student athletes accountable. Take it past diversity training. Take them directly to Black educators and resources that can fully express the damage caused by their actions. Hold the adults in leadership, the coaching staff accountable. Enforce appropriate consequences, even if that means firing staff. Yes, firing staff who do nothing to intervene in racial violence is an appropriate consequence.
And please, give the Black athletes and coaches of Gladstone a sincere apology. Actually, pay them reparations. Check in with the Gladstone School District and see if anything in particular needs extra funding. Then fund it.
They are owed that much.