GRAND BLANC, MI – The racist tweets from some Howell High School students
declaring a “white” victory over Grand Blanc in a basketball game
last week are a reflection of society, experts and educators say.
“You’re trained to assume that
just because you are playing sports and having access to different persons,
race or culture, it will automatically change one’s belief system,” said
Dana Brooks, a professor and dean of the College of Physical Activity and Sport
Sciences at West Virginia University. Brooks has published and presented
internationally on the topics of sports and racism, teaching a semester-long
course on individual interactions in sport.
“Sport is just a reflection of
the greater society. It reflects those conditions in a larger social
The Grand Blanc boys basketball team
lost to Howell 54-49 March 13 in the Class A state regional final at Linden
Shortly after the game, some students
at Howell High School, a primarily white school in a town haunted by its past
connections with the Ku Klux Klan, took to the social media site Twitter to
taunt Grand Blanc, a team made up of majority African Americans. The tweets
have since been deleted.
But the messages are proof of the strain
in race relations in sports and society today, some say.
“It’s sad that in this day and age,
it’s still an issue,” said Dan Schell, boys basketball coach at Mt.
Pleasant High School. “With social media and everything else, with a touch
of a button everybody can see it. Being young and ignorant, kids put things out
there that obviously don’t need to be put out.
“They don’t realize the
magnitude of what they’re doing.”
Schell spent part of Monday morning
watching tape on Howell, his team’s quarterfinal round opponent at 7 p.m.
Tuesday, March 18, at Davison High School. He says he read the messages and
spoke to a few of his players about it and planned to talk with the entire
team, which includes black players, later in the afternoon.
Frances Gilcreast, president of the
NAACP-Flint branch, said her group receives complaints of racism every day.
While it didn’t learn of this event until reading about it, she said the incident
serves as a microcosm of the country.
“It’s not something that
surprises us,” Gilcreast said. “How do you separate racism in one
particular area? It’s in every facet of life. You’ve got bad apples everywhere,
and they go to work, they go to the store, they go to school, they play
Nick Randle, one of the Grand Blanc
players who accused Howell students of hurling the N-word at him and teammates
Thursday, said he’s learned to deal with such comments.
“There might be some kids that
think that’s wrong, but it’s the older people that are telling them that this
is how it’s always been,” Randle said. “That’s what they know.”
He and teammate Kevon Miller both
told said that they heard racist remarks from Howell students in each of the
schools’ three games against each other during the season. At one point Thursday, a referee walked over to quiet some
students hurling insults, Randle said.
John Johnson, communications
director with the Michigan High School Athletic Association, said because the
tweets happened off the court, the MHSAA is letting officials at the local level
handle any disciplinary issues.
He said the MHSAA has not received a
petition from either team to forfeit Tuesday’s game, a move he said would be “unprecedented,”
and officials from Thursday’s game did not file a report necessary for review.
“This is something that
happened outside the scope of the game,” Johnson said. “It’d be no
different from times past where rival schools used to do all kinds of things to
each other at local parks before games. Those are things that still happen away
from the playing surface.”
Johnson said he could recall only one
instance in recent memory in which the MHSAA intervened in a basketball game,
following a complaint from the gay advocacy group the Triangle Foundation, but
never for racism.
“But that certainly doesn’t
mean it never happened,” Johnson pointed out. “Whenever there are
incidents of inappropriate behavior going on, it is something that we want to
know about, we want the school to communicate, the schools that are
participating to communicate that to the host sites, we certainly want them to
communicate that to us should they advance to the Breslin Center.”
Howell was one of three teams to
beat defending Class C champion Flint Beecher this season, a 58-53 win on Dec.
10 at Howell. Beecher coach Mike Williams said the Howell Highlanders played
with a lot of emotion, but there weren’t any problems between his players, most
of them black, and fans.
“We kind of got laughed at for
losing to them, but nobody’s laughing now,” Williams said of the Howell
But the phone hasn’t stopped ringing
at Flint Southwestern Academy, a majority-black school with nothing to do with
Thursday’s Howell-Grand Blanc game, from parents asking for the MHSAA’s phone
number in Lansing.
“This is rehearsal for real life
afterward,” said Jamie Foster, in his first year as athletic director at
Southwestern and a self-described “white guy.” He said he wouldn’t
consider scheduling Howell after recent events.
“I’m looking at my friends and
everyone around here — it doesn’t matter what color, what sex you are — and
there are great people. That’s not something you want to teach. It should be
used as a teaching tool to discourage that type of behavior.”
Davison officials, meanwhile, say it
will be business as usual when they host the game Tuesday. Township police and
school security will be on hand as they are for any other event, and spectators
are expected to act appropriately, district spokeswoman Michelle Edwards said.
“We expect two really good
basketball teams to play a really good game of basketball,” Edwards said.
– Flint Journal writers Roberto
Acosta and Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.