Racism in High School Sports: Sign of a Bigger Problem

Students may be to blame for isolated incidents, but larger societal factors are also at play.

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Phillipsburg High School wrestling team with black dummy hanging by its neck

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Have you ever Googled the terms "racism" and "high school sports"?  Well, if you ever wanted to lose faith in humanity a few degrees more than you may already have, then a brief survey of the year's most-reported high school sports stories have been about race. Race this, race that.

When it comes to the children of the United States of America, a callous attitude toward matters of race seems to be all the rage these days. 

A stereotypically common response from an African-American mother or grandmother when faced with the prospect of unruly children is to say, "They act like they don't have no home training." Well, if recent racist behaviors exhibited by Caucasian high school athletes across the nation are to be used as a barometer, there is much home training to be administered to all ethnicities regarding race in America.

I was always taught that race had no place in sports and that athletic team competition is a prime example of people of different races, ethnic and cultural backgrounds band together to achieve a common goal. When most high schoolers were children, surely the open-minded ideas of camaraderie, sportsmanship and brotherhood were drilled into their heads. But apparently that isn't enough in some circumstances. 

In February, a group of New Jersey state champion high school wrestlers from Phillipsburg High were disciplined for taking a racist photo in which members used KKK imagery and a black wrestling dummy in a T-shirt of the opposing Paulsboro High School being hung by a rope wrapped around its neck. Phillipsburg is 7.5 percent black; Paulsboro is 36 percent black.

On March 13, an all-white basketball team from Howell (MI) High School defeated the mixed-race squad fielded by Grand Blanc High School during the Class A regional final by a score of 54-49. One would think the hard-fought win would have satisfied Howell students and alumni, but that would not be taking into account the emboldening effect social media has on stupid people. Tweets such as "All hail white power. #HitlerIsMyDad" and "Tonight was probably one of the most racist nights of my life. I heard so many slurs and expressions. I also said a few things..."

A very similar circumstance involving high school basketball fans and Twitter occurred during state semifinals in Mahopac, north of New York City. Several students were suspended after they sent racist tweets following a loss to local basketball powerhouse Mount Vernon. These are but a few of the many incidents that have occurred in high school athletics over the past five years.

In all of the aforementioned circumstances, school administrators were on record as saying how wrong these actions were and that disciplinary measures were certainly being taken, but said discipline will likely do very little to ease concerns about the rising tide of racism in high school athletics. It is easy for a child to feign ignorance about racial prejudice, but certain behavior is learned.

What of the adults whose teachings are often the catalyst for such behaviors?

Rancho Bernardo High School basketball coach James Choe recently came under fire amid allegations of racism contained within an anonymous complaint filed with Poway Unified School District and the local NAACP chapter. 

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