Superintendent Tori Gibson felt she had no choice but to make the unpopular decision. While studying the Amador High football team, there was a group chat called “Kill Black“, she ended the conversation, filled with insulting words and racial insults Northern California school varsity season.
That meant the 100th anniversary game between rivals Amador and Argonauts was canceled.
“We canceled the football season, and we did it for the right reasons, because this kind of behavior is unacceptable,” said Gibson, who oversees the Amador Unified School District. “But football is an extracurricular activity. This is not a given. This is not right. It’s strictly extra.”
Discipline was swift and sharp. Moments before Amador was scheduled to play Rosemont, a nearby predominantly black and Latino school Sacramento — the game was cancelled.
There was more precipitation. Amador’s football coach, athletic director and director were sent on leave.
According to Gibson, discipline was the easy part. The hard part will be setting the table for real change, and the key will be presentation. The school is located in a predominantly white rural area an hour’s drive east of Sacramento. Amador has only four black students out of about 750.
“I think if we roll it out right and provide the support we need, and we don’t shame people for who they are, and we design it to celebrate everyone, but really look at our blind spots and our differences, I think it’s going to make a big difference,” said Gibson, who is white.
The Amadora incident was one of several troubling examples of anti-black racism in high school football across the country this fall. In the past, athletes could leave racism and other issues off the field, but today even the sports setting is not immune to real-world issues.
In some cases, administrators have used the incidents to start a conversation about race that they had previously struggled to address and launch programs that they hope will have a lasting impact.
A TikTok video created by players at River Valley High School in Yuba, California, showed a mock slave auction. A post circulated on social media showing five white men from West Laurens High School, a school in central Georgia a little more than two hours southeast of Atlanta, wearing racial slurs against blacks at a football game. And in Gulderland secondary school in New Yorkabout a half-hour drive west of Albany, several classmates showed up to a football game wearing black face paint, prompting about 100 students to walk out of classes a few days later.
Richard Lapczyk, founder of the Central Florida Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, uses social media to draw attention to weekly examples of racism in sports and elsewhere. He said the institute, also known as TIDES, found 58 articles in the first week of searching, and he highlighted 11 on Twitter.
“In the current political climate, acts of white supremacy have been unleashed across the country,” Lapczyk said. “I don’t think the general public knows how widespread it is.”
Gibson, a Northern California supervisor, thinks she should start with the perceived bias in her district. She said she was encouraged by the fact that the school already has strong transgender, gay and lesbian advocacy groups.
“I think we’re going to have a great opportunity to really make some changes and do a great job,” she said.
The mock slave auction in River Valley was done as a joke, but there was nothing funny about the aftermath. The varsity football team lost the rest of the season after suspensions left them with too few players to continue.
The Greater Sacramento branch of the NAACP held a meeting calling for systemic change, and the players apologized for their participation. During the meeting, a black player said he didn’t want to participate in the mock slave auction, but he was the only black player left in the locker room and everyone focused on him. He said he tried to leave but couldn’t. He was told the video would not be published, but it was.
River Valley Principal Lee McPeak said the district is working with a professional to implement programs to help learn from the incident.
“There are vital messages about race, discrimination, and systemic change that are needed to help us turn important corners toward the justice, respect, and compassion that is essential for our schools today,” he said.
At Guilderland High in New York, some students were outraged when some of their classmates came to a game of blackface. Administrators met with students in small groups, at a round table. The school said it was a “tipping point” for students who had faced discrimination and injustice.
After all the incidents, the work of learning and change is just beginning.
“It’s going to take time,” Gibson said. “These will be years of work. There’s no magic button to just fix it.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP