A broadcaster’s use of racist language before an Oklahoma high school girl’s basketball game Thursday drew condemnation from politicians, superintendents and the state’s top education official. The incident sent shockwaves through a prep sports landscape that weeks earlier witnessed another incident of black athletes targeted with slurs.
“It is critical on all of us to be clear that racism has no place in society and must never be tolerated, especially in our public school,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, responding to a racial slur being directed at members of the Norman High School girls basketball team, which kneeled during the National Anthem before a game with Midwest City High School.
“My heart aches for the young female athletes who were subjected to this hateful and disgusting tirade.”
Last month, a fight broke out between John Marshall High School boys basketball players and Newcastle students after a playoff game. Paula Lewis, the chairperson of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education, told the Oklahoman that Newcastle students directed “vile racist and derogatory taunting” at John Marshall basketball players and that the fact that no adults stepped forward to stop the racist taunting led to the fight.
As the Norman High School players kneeled during the national anthem, the announcers, apparently not realizing their microphones were live, began to speak.
“They are kneeling? Fuck them,” a man is heard saying as the national antheme is played. “I hope Norman gets their ass kicked. Fucking n*****s.”
Matt Rowan, owner of OSPN, the live-streaming platform that broadcasted Thursday’s game, told The Frontier in a phone interview Friday afternoon he was not the person heard making racist comments.
But hours later, Rowan admitted it was him.
“I made inappropriate and racist comments believing that the microphone was off; however, let me state immediately that is no excuse, such comments should have never been uttered,” Rowan said in a statement sent to The Frontier.
In his statement, Rowan blamed his comments on having Type 1 diabetes.
“I will state I suffer Type 1 Diabetes and during the game my sugar was spiking,” Rowan said. “While not excusing my remarks, it is not unusual when my sugar spikes that I become disoriented and often say things that are not appropriate as well as hurtful.”
Rowan introduced himself at the beginning of the broadcast, along with his co-host, Scott Sapulpa, who was originally identified by The Oklahoman as the person using racist language.
Sapulpa, who spent last year as the football coach at Hulbert High School, did not answer a phone call seeking comment and his voicemail box was full.
Hulbert Public Schools Superintendent Jolyn Choate sent an email Friday to Hulbert parents saying that “while it has been reported incorrectly our employee (Sapulpa) was the announcer who used the racist language, our employee should have stood up for the students and condemned the racist language from the other announcer and the hate and intolerance it represents.”
Choate said in the email that Sapulpa “has been placed on administrative leave and will not be returning to the school.”
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association said it was investigating the incident in a statement released on its website Friday.
“This kind of behavior will never be tolerated by anyone representing the NFHS or OSSAA. State tournament playoffs are a special time for our schools, their students, and their communities, and anything that is counter-productive to education-based activities will be addressed immediately and appropriately,” the statement said.
The racist comments were immediately met with wide condemnation from across the state.
Norman Mayor Breea Clark said she was “livid and absolutely disgusted about the racial and hateful comments directed towards the young women on the Norman High School basketball team.
“These young athletes were simply expressing themselves as hundreds of professional athletes around the nation have done, and no one, let alone a child, deserves to experience this kind of racist and toxic behavior,” Clark said.
Norman Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nick Migliorino said in a statement that “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,” Migliorino said. “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.”
Mid-Del Schools Superintendent Dr. Rick Cobb called the racist statement “an affront to the lessons we try to teach our students and the kind of world in which we all want to live.”
He said he was “hopeful” the state athletic association would remove the broadcasting company from the rest of the state tournament.
Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said Friday on Twitter that “The frustrating thing is that Black athletes have built a sports empire at all levels in Oklahoma, the comments are a harsh reminder that at the end of the day in the minds of far too many, Black athletes are no more than fucking (n-words.)”
Sapulpa High School, where the game was played, condemned “the vile language” and said “no Sapulpa Public Schools employees were involved” in the broadcast.
“It is our understanding that the individuals heard in that live stream have been fired,” the school system said in a statement on Facebook.
The NFHS said in a statement they were “sickened” by the racist comments.
“We apologize for and are sickened by the comments made last night at the start of our broadcast of the OSSAA girls basketball game between Norman High School and Midwest City High School. The thoughts expressed in no way represent our network, and we are outraged that they found their way into the production. We are aggressively investigating the incident and have immediately cut ties with the third-party production crew that was involved.
“The NFHS Network firmly condemns racism, hate and discrimination.”