Just about the only thing students should have to worry about when going to school is learning. That’s an ideal scenario, but not all students are given the resources and support to live. School is an especially contentious subject given that we’re still facing the novel coronavirus pandemic and that both parents and community members are still raging about mask mandates. However, even outside of the pandemic, research shows that schools have been historically unsafe spaces for students of color—for example, the disproportionately higher rate of suspension and disciplinary action.
As reported by local outlet KCCI 8, racism allegedly caused serious harm while at a high school football game in Earlham, Iowa. Earlham High School’s quarterback, Darrell Matchem, was reportedly called the “N-word” by opponents from the Southwest Valley High School team during their homecoming game. According to teammates, Matchem was flagged and suspended from the game after he yelled back in response to the disturbing slurs he heard. According to KCCI, the visiting team received no penalty.
“They said stay down, the N-word,” Paulette Knox, Matchem’s mother, told WHO 13 in part. “That is totally unacceptable.” She added to the outlet that he’s been depressed since the game ended on Friday and that his younger brother has noticed he hasn’t been eating or playing football.
“You could hear them talking about Darrell,” Kolby Sinclair, a teammate of Matchem’s, recalled to the outlet. “Which made everyone on our team very unhappy.” Sinclair says they heard the N-word being said “very loud” and added they understand why Matchem yelled back. Somehow, the ref was less than understanding.
“That really hurt me,” Matchem told CBS 2 Iowa in reference to being pulled from the game and penalized. “Because I felt like there was refs around and people around that should have control over it, and I got penalized for standing up for myself.”
The high school senior, who had been crowned homecoming king before the game, described the incident on the field as “heartbreaking.” He said he feels like racism is taught at home, and that no one should ever be judged by the color of their skin.
He tweeted this quote and emoji as well.
The schools have released a joint statement saying they are investigating the incident. In addition, schools say they are investigating reports of “inappropriate and aggressive” behavior from fans that occurred after the game was over.
Disturbingly, this is far from the first time racist behavior from high schoolers has made headlines. As Daily Kos has covered, for example, an audience in California taunted a team of mostly Latinx high schoolers by throwing tortillas at them. Also in California, students gathered to demand accountability after photos and videos of white students abusing a Black doll at football games went viral online. Announcers in Oklahoma who assumably forgot they were still wearing mics were caught using derogatory and racist slurs about high schoolers who kneeled during the Pledge of Allegiance. Even outside of sports, finding racist graffiti, for example, is a horrifying and all too common incident at schools.
You can check out interviews with Mitchem’s mother, brother, and classmates below.