Racist speech is a pervasive issue in Oklahoma high school athletics.

A recent incident involving an announcer paid by the Oklahoma Secondary School Athletics Association (OSSAA) at the girls state basketball tournament was a wake up call to our state.

When Norman High School athletes kneeled during the national anthem to show peaceful solidarity with those affected by racism, the announcer called them expletives and a racial slur.

Kelbie Washington, the star player for the Norman High School girls basketball team, said “it really kind of broke our hearts” to hear those comments. The announcer’s horrific and destructive words were uttered in the face of respectful protest. In general, kneeling is a gesture of respect, humility, and obedience; in this instance, it was a courageous act of peaceful protest.

I attend Norman High School. Although this episode of racism received widespread attention because it was caught on a live mic and broadcast to the world, this type of incident is not unusual.

I have been on teams throughout my life where other players used racial slurs and expletives to hurt our team spirit. I remember the first time someone called one of my teammates the “N” word. I was in eighth grade, and although I am white, it hit me like a slap across the face. At the time, I did not know how to react.

This issue is widespread, and athletes should have the tools and a voice with OSSAA so that they can protect our interactions from bigotry and hate. This is not just a matter of bad sportsmanship or freedom of speech. This is a hate crime, and it is reflective of racism in our society.

The OSSAA has to call out this racism and punish it severely when it happens. Silence or accepting pathetic excuses for the behavior is tantamount to condoning the behavior. It must stop.

One way forward is for the OSSAA to incorporate students into decisions, and to ensure that its “investigation” does not drag on so long that it achieves nothing. Students should have a voice to express frustration and reveal issues with the organizations that govern them.

Today I am asking OSSAA to create a student advisory board to provide input on these issues. We can look to examples at the collegiate level where student disciplinary boards are common. It should be no different here.

We are all responsible for creating a safe and welcoming environment for our fellow students and athletes, and without student input, OSSAA is not being held accountable to the people it governs.

Through my Action Civics classes and projects, I’ve learned that democracy requires accountability and communication. I hope the OSSAA board will live out these American values, and do the right thing: let our voices be heard against hate speech.

 

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