LA GRANDE — An investigation into alleged racism during a recent La Grande state playoff football game is still underway.
The La Grande and Gladstone school districts continue to work alongside the Oregon School Activities Association to get to the bottom of allegations from Gladstone players and parents accusing La Grande players of racial slurs during a playoff game on Friday, Nov. 5. The game ended in a dispute between the two football teams, which Gladstone players claim was the result of persistent racism throughout the contest.
Players and parents documented their accusations in an article in by The Oregonian on Nov. 11, and the La Grande School District released a public acknowledgment Nov. 12.
The entities involved issued a joint statement on Tuesday, Nov. 16, that articulated a move toward solidarity between the two schools as the investigation continues.
“The La Grande School District deeply regrets that the Gladstone players, coaching staff, parents and fans did not have a positive experience competing against La Grande High School,” the statement said. “The district is proud of our history of sportsmanship, so we take the situation very seriously.”
While the two schools, along with the OSAA, have come to an agreement on programs moving forward, OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber said the issue is far from being resolved.
“We will be working with an independent investigator to see exactly what took place and act from there,” Weber said. “To see the school districts looking into this seriously, and going forward, making sure this relationship is repaired, is positive.”
Weber said the steps La Grande is taking are encouraging, and have the support of Gladstone.
“They were supportive in signing the joint release,” he said. “We have been working with both school districts about what steps can be done.”
Weber said issues of racism, complaints and other incidents come across his desk during the school year. Each is thoroughly investigated.
“There are instances that schools deal with personally, or instances where they come to us,” he said. “We work through it with everyone’s best interest. We all want (high school athletics) to be supportive for everyone — students, coaches and spectators. When that doesn’t happen, that is something we take seriously.”
According to the joint statement, in addition to following OSAA’s policies, the school districts are working to smooth out relations on both sides, including incident reporting, preventative actions, review of game film, interviewing athletes from both teams and fact-finding.
It remains to be seen what potential actions could stem from the incident.
“As we have sought to determine administrative action and potential sanctions, our mutual goal has been to ensure that a restorative and educational process is used to support administrative action and healing as well as prevent reoccurrence,” the statement read.
According to the release, La Grande High School will administer implicit bias professional development training for athletes and coaches at the school. The two school districts are making plans to hold a meeting to be attended by team captains, athletics directors and coaches.
La Grande Athletic Director Darren Goodman said the athletic department is still gathering facts. He declined to comment in order to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation.
The joint statement noted that OSAA has been in communication with the game’s officiating crew. Officials and chain crew members have sent their official statements to OSAA recounting their description of the on-field interactions. The accusations in the original article from The Oregonian claimed that an official referred to one Gladstone coach as “that Black coach” in a dispute on the field.
“They’re trying to get as many facts as they can,” said Pete Caldwell, commissioner of the Northeast Oregon Football Officials Association. “My officials have given statements and participated in that investigation process.”
On Nov. 12, leading Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives urged responsibility for the alleged actions of the La Grande football team. A statement pointed out that House Bill 3409 was passed in 2019 in order to promote equality in interschool activities. The law requires OSAA to respond to complaints of racism within two days and resolve the issue within 30 days.
According to The Oregonian, the legislators involved included House Speaker Tina Kotek, House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner and Rep. Janelle Bynum.
OSAA passed the S.T.A.R. initiative in response to House Bill 3409, which is a point of emphasis in the joint statement from La Grande and Gladstone. The initiative promotes sportsmanship and combats racism and discrimination during athletic events.
— East Oregonian sports reporter Annie Fowler contributed to this report.