More than a dozen members of a varsity girls basketball team in Buffalo, New York have been suspended for participating in pre-game chants featuring a racial slur.
For the past few years, Kenmore East High School squad has practiced a controversial tradition to get hyped up before games: waiting until all coaches and adults left the locker room, the team would join hands for a prayer, then count to three before yelling the “n” word. The ritual started as a joke two to five years ago between two former teammates—one white and one black, the Buffalo News reports. Kenmore principal Patrick Heyden said the girls were not “overt racists,” and that “they adopted a stupid practice that carried down over the years.” But no one’s laughing now.
15-year-old sophomore Tyra Batts, the only black student currently on the team, spoke up after witnessing the ritual before the team’s opening game last week. “I said, ‘You’re not allowed to say that word because I don’t like that word,’” she told the Buffalo News. “They said, ‘You know we’re not racist, Tyra. It’s just a word, not a label.’ I was outnumbered.”
Batts got into an argument with a teammate during practice, during which her teammate called her a “black piece of (expletive),” the Buffalo News reports. The following week at school, Batts’ frustration and anger culminated in a heated fight that turned physical. After learning of the racial insults behind the fight, administrators shortened Batts’ suspension and began their investigation. School administrators said they had no idea this was taking place, and superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro said an investigation launched “the minute an adult knew.” During a conference, Mondanaro apologized, “The insensitive chant is absolutely unacceptable, insensitive and not representative of the diverse student body within the … School District.”
Even if the team’s coach, Kristy Bondgren, hadn’t heard the chant itself, Batts says the coach had at least heard comments during practices from teammates about Tyra being black, as well as racial jokes about slavery, shackles, and picking cotton.
Students who took part in the chants have received a two-day suspension and a one-game suspension for the season, on top of practices being canceled for the week. While school officials and a few teammates have apologized to Batts and her family, things are far from resolved. The incident has spurred a significant amount of racial tension in the school, and the squad will likely face trouble as they encounter diverse teams.