Eight New Jersey high school wrestlers have been kept out of a state tournament after a photo surfaced showing the team members simulating lynching of a black wrestling dummy in a rival team’s shirt, the Associated Press reports.
On Thursday, Scott Wilhelm, an attorney for the wrestlers, read a prepared statement claiming that the Phillipsburg High School students were merely showing school spirit and didn’t think what they were doing could be seen as insensitive, AP reports.
Wilhelm, standing in front of the boys, who sat at a table and didn’t speak, stated that the boys were sorry if they offended anyone. “We did not intend to disparage anyone,” the boys’ lawyer said. “We are truly sorry for any harm we may have caused.”
The wrestling dummy used in the photo is manufactured only in dark leather and is used in daily practices, the statement noted. “In outfitting the wrestling dummy, we did not give any thought to the physical appearance of the dummy as anything other than an unidentified generic wrestler,” Wilhelm said.
AP notes that the picture posted online showed seven boys in Phillipsburg wrestling attire surrounding a black wrestling dummy wearing a Paulsboro High School T-shirt and hanging from a noose. It is unclear why eight boys have been suspended from the tournament when only seven students are shown in the photo.
According to AP, the town of Phillipsburg’s population is 85 percent white, while Paulsboro is about one-third black.
School officials aren’t saying whether any additional disciplinary actions would be taken, AP said.
Read more at the Associated Press.