Matt Rowan’s use of a racist slur on a high school basketball broadcast last week drew scorn from across the county. His excuse — that it was caused by an episode of high blood sugar due to his Type 1 diabetes — only brought more contempt, this time from the diabetic community.
“I think any parent who was reading that statement who has a child with Type 1 diabetes was really disappointed,” said Sen. Carri Hicks, an Oklahoma City Democrat whose son has Type 1 diabetes. “We are already teaching our six-year-old even when you are not in control of your blood sugar you are absolutely in control of your actions and your words.”
Rowan used racist language during a broadcast of the Norman High School girl’s basketball game, criticizing the players for kneeling during the national anthem.
When reached by The Frontier last Thursday, Rowan denied it was him. Hours later, Rowan confessed with a lengthy statement that said his diabetes was to blame.
“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 continued working after a hot microphone caught his racist remarks and he did not appear to have trouble calling plays during the game.
The nation’s leading Type 1 diabetes organization wasn’t buying it.
“There are a lot of symptoms of high blood sugar, racism is not one of them,” tweeted JDRF, an international Type 1 diabetes advocacy and research organization.
More than 1.6 million Americans live with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder where a person’s pancreas does not produce insulin. While Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be treated with an improved diet, Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that lasts a lifetime.
The only treatment for Type 1 diabetes is insulin, which is injected with each meal to offset carbohydrates or when blood sugar levels are too high.
Low blood sugar requires immediate sugar intake and it is not uncommon for that person to experience dizziness, confusion or headaches.
High blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycemia, can result in fatigue and weakness.
Rowan did not return a call on Sunday from The Frontier.
But many in the Type 1 diabetes community said even if he were experiencing high blood sugar levels it would not result in a person using racist language that wasn’t already a part of their lexicon.
“It felt like a punch to the gut,” said Wynter Griffis, a resident of The Village who has Type 1 diabetes. “We have so many misconceptions of our disease already, and we already have things about diabetes that need to make headlines, like the cost of insulin, that for him to say that and draw this kind of attention was just a slap in the face.”
Griffis said friends reached out to her after Rowan’s comments to ask whether an episode of high blood sugar could really cause comments like that.
“Although I love having questions about diabetes, this didn’t really feel like education — it felt like defending ourselves,” Griffis said. “Most important, we have to address there was blatant racism but him throwing diabetes into the mix brought on another issue.”
Rowan’s excuse was criticized widely on social media, including many jokes that he just needed a candy bar to cure his racism.
But Hicks, the state senators whose son has Type 1 diabetes, said the jokes made her even more frustrated.
“I think the one thing that hurt the most is the attempts of saying the individual just needed a glass of orange juice or a Snickers to cure racism,” Hicks said. “I realize it’s an attempt at humor but it’s still extremely frustrating. Not only is it inaccurate because high blood sugar isn’t treated with a snack but it also makes diabetes a joke.”
Hicks has advocated for diabetes as a member of the Oklahoma Senate and filed several related bills this year, including one that would help diabetics receive quicker access t0 lower insulin costs.
Insulin costs have increased nearly 200 percent over the past decade, according to research by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
It is not uncommon for diabetics to ration their insulin intake in an effort to save money, which can be fatal.
“The No. 1 reason for the high cost of insulin is the presence of a vulnerable population that needs insulin to survive,” wrote Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a Mayo Clinic physician, addressing the rising cost of insulin in a research paper. “This population is willing to pay almost anything to have access to a lifesaving drug, and manufacturers know it.”
Rowan’s racist comments were directed at high school students and Griffis said the most important thing is to address the racist attack those students felt. But she also feels bad for any students who have Type 1 diabetes and may have to field questions from their friends about what high blood sugar might mean.
“I understand that people with high blood sugar can have heightened emotions,” Griffis said. “But diabetes does not cause racism, that is not a thing.”