What happens when a basketball player posts an inappropriate message on Instagram about the opposing team?
You give her team a sportsmanship award.
Last week the Middleton High School’s girl’s basketball team, coached by Jeff Kind, was awarded the WIAA sportsmanship award for girl’s basketball for exemplary sportsmanship during the 2017 state tournament.
This is the same team where a player posted a note on Instagram several months ago that accused Madison East of “intentionally trying to hurt two of our players and then laughing about it” with the hashtag “#youregonnaworkforusanyways.”
While the post was quickly removed and apologies were given all around, one really does have to ask: What message does this send to other schools who participated in the tournament and had exemplary seasons? What message does it send to East High School and players of color?
Sheree Alyce Rayford will tell you. She alleges she was the victim of mocking by fans at a Middleton-LaFollette boys basketball game at Middleton in February. She posted to her Facebook account when she heard the news about the award.
“I think this is a wonderful example of how black voices are muted. This season alone there have been SEVERAL (people) who spoke out against Middleton and this is the response from WIAA… No worries, I hear it loud and clear.”
An article posted April 14 by the Wisconsin State Journal said that “When notified via email that the selection of Middleton was drawing negative Twitter comments from student-athletes at other Big Eight Conference schools, WIAA Director of Communications Todd Clark wrote back: “(It’s) Encouraging that teachable moments can have an impact on the lives of young people.””
Okay. So it’s possible that the player that posted the unfortunate Instagram post has learned something, and yes, students can learn from these teachable moments. They need to talk about these issues and see the impact of their actions. Middleton did take action and apparently the team responded.
However, this action by the WIAA glosses over everything. The school can put a feather in its cap and add to the many things that they are doing to create an inclusive school. All of this looks great on paper.
Meanwhile, people like Rayford are not convinced and neither am I. More work needs to be done at the school and at the WIAA. A sportsmanship award is not going to change that. Middleton has a history of racially motivated incidents. In addition to the two listed above, a Middleton JV football player allegedly used a racial slur on the field toward a La Follette player last fall. And no one has forgotten the 2006 incident in which Middleton fans chanted “food stamps, food stamps” and “Os-car May-er.” While this specific behavior has stopped, the roots of the behavior go back years. I should know because I graduated from Middleton High School in 1979 and we were chanting “Os-car May-er” back then.
The bottom line is this: Teams who do the right thing one time should not be awarded sportsmanship awards. Teams that do the right thing consistently should be awarded sportsmanship awards.
I agree with Rayford. This award sends a clear message that black lives and black experiences really do not matter. We need to do a better job of holding our schools accountable.