It took a moment to register just what, exactly, the announcer had said.
At a girls’ basketball district championship game at Newkirk High School in Oklahoma last Friday, the visiting players from Crooked Oaks High School were getting ready to come onto the court. Before announcing the lineup, however, Newkirk’s announcer had a disclaimer:
“Their names are pretty disgusting, but I’m going to try and call ‘em out,” he said.
One girl covered her mouth with her hands. Someone recording the game responded, “What? Did he just say…No, he didn’t just say that.”
The unsolicited commentary caused Newkirk Public Schools superintendent Brady Barnes to pull the announcer to the side by halftime, when he was then replaced. Barnes also followed up on Saturday with an apology to both schools for the “unfortunate and inappropriate personal comment,” reports the Oklahoman.
“In around 20 years of announcing Newkirk games, this is the first time something like this has occurred,” Barnes wrote in a Facebook post. “While he did not make any similar comments, I made the decision to replace him at halftime of the girl’s basketball game.”
In an interview with The Oklahoman, Barnes said he was “caught off guard” by the comments.
“I was like, ‘there’s no way he just said that.’ But he did, and it’s nothing we condone or support,” he said.
But the apology didn’t stop the video from going viral, as supporters and critics of the announcer, who wasn’t officially named by the school district, debate whether or not the comments were “racist” (spoiler alert: they are).
The announcer’s defenders pointed to his long track record of working for Newkirk Public Schools, including regularly announcing starting lineups for basketball games. On Facebook, someone identifying himself as one of the announcer’s family members said the man, who is in his 80s, recently suffered a stroke, reports the Washington Post.
“He makes mistake in his words just talking to him in a conversation, you would know if you weren’t so quick to judge,” wrote the person. “He is literally the most unselfish, honest, caring and loving man I know.”
Anyone with an “unusual” name knows the horrors of a roll call—whether it’s a substitute teacher butchering your name, or an apologetic announcer stumbling through a starting lineup.
However unfortunate or awkward, it’s not an altogether unusual experience. But this wasn’t a matter of mispronouncing names or making an awkward (but still insensitive) comment, like calling their names “difficult.” The announcer insulted the players’ names calling them “disgusting.” Most of the players were black girls or girls of color.
Notable here are the big demographic differences between the two schools: The Okalahoman reports that Crooked Oak, which sits in southeast Oklahoma City, is about 90 percent nonwhite. Newkirk, on the other hand, is more than 80 percent white, according to the Post.
The Crooked Oak girls ended up winning the district championship—their first in more than 20 years—but players told KOCO TV they felt their achievement was overshadowed by the ugly comments.
“It’s kind of getting taken away from us by something we had no control over, something as simple as having different names,” the girls said.
Supporters of the girls say they want a direct apology for the announcer’s remarks.
“I do not feel that a quiet apology is suitable for a public humiliation,” wrote Lorna Pollard, who uploaded the viral clip. “No one has reached out to the girls themselves to extend an apology…I’m sorry if I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”