An entire girls basketball team decided to kneel during the national anthem of the Oklahoma 6A state basketball tournament Thursday night. Playing against Midwest City High School, every member of the Norman High School girls team knelt but instead of being applauded for their stance against racism and police brutality, announcers on the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) Network's official live stream attempted to degrade the players by using disgusting racial slurs.
Clearly forgetting to turn off their mic during the anthem, the game announcers were heard making racist and derogatory comments toward the players. “They're kneeling? I hope Norman gets their ass kicked," one announcer could be heard saying. Another said, "F**k Norman. I hope they lose. C’mon, Midwest City. They're gonna kneel like that? Hell no." Later in the clip, an announcer could be heard muttering, “F*cking [N-words].”
Video clips of the incident posted by the program's junior varsity coach Frankie Parks have since gone viral. Alongside sharing the clip, social media users noted that racism like this is the reason why people kneel for the anthem. “See why we do it!?! They still think it’s about the flag,” NFL player Gerland McCoy, who also kneels for the anthem, said on Twitter.
WARNING: Video below contains disturbing language.
In response to the incident, multiple members of the team, the school’s athletic director T.D. O'Hara, and its leadership teacher have tweeted out a graphic with the words "THIS IS WHY WE KNEEL."
Students are using the incident as a chance to spread awareness of racism.
According to ABC News affiliate WFAA, announcers for the NFHS broadcast were contracted by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA). While both have not yet been identified, multiple sources have identified one announcer as Scott Sapulpa, The Oklahoman reported. Sapulpa is listed as the head high school football coach at Hulbert, a school in northeast Oklahoma. Calls to hold him, the other announcer, and the association accountable have ensued.
In a statement released Friday, announcer Matt Rowan admitted it was his voice using hate speech to describe children. He then blamed his racist ramblings on his blood sugar.
It was not until a subsequent interview with TMZ Sports that Rowan bothered to apologize to the student athletes whom he’d insulted. He also claimed he wasn’t trying to hide behind his diabetes.
The network issued a statement Friday noting that it is “aggressively investigating” the incident and “condemns racism, hate, and discrimination.” The NFHS streams high school games not only in Oklahoma but around the country, so such behavior is unacceptable and a statement issuing an apology is not enough.
After issuing a statement Friday in support of its students and their resilience, Norman Public Schools superintendent Nick Migliorino confirmed that Norman Public Schools would no longer allow NFHS to broadcast its games.
“We condemn and will not tolerate the disgusting words and attitudes of these announcers,” Migliorino said in a statement. “This type of hate speech has no place in our society and we are outraged that it would be directed at any human being, and particularly at our students.”
“We fully support our students’ right to freedom of expression and our immediate focus is to support these girls and their coaches and families, particularly our Black students and coaching staff. It is tragic that the hard work and skill of this team is being overshadowed by the vile, malignant words of these individuals. We will do everything in our power to support and uplift our team and everyone affected by this incident.”
Additionally, Norman mayor Breea Clark also tweeted about the incident Friday, saying she was "livid and absolutely disgusted with the broadcaster's “racist and hateful comments” and plans to schedule a "listening session town hall" to hear how this incident has impacted the youth of the city in efforts to learn how the community can be improved. She also called for OSSAA to end their contract with NFHS Network.
"(NFHS) employees do not need to be anywhere near children," Clark's tweet read. "Further, these young women & their team deserve a public apology from NFHS and OSSAA. There is NO PLACE for this behavior in our nation, & certainly not in youth sports.”
Despite the announcers’ racist slurs and hopes the team would lose, Norman defeated Midwest City 53-40 and advanced to Friday’s state semifinals game against Union!