UPDATE: This column was published Tuesday night. Click here for the Wednesday morning update from Paul Daugherty regarding reader feedback.
Standing at the free throw line Friday night at Elder High School, St. Xavier senior basketball player Bobby Jefferson was no more than 30 feet from the Elder students who chanted this at him:
“He can’t read.’’
Later, Jefferson would also hear:
“(He) smokes crack.’’
“(He’s) on welfare.’’
His teammate Nate Stockman caught this, at various times during the game:
“Open your eyes.’’
That last one was entirely ironic. The young haters in the Elder student section represented nothing of what the USA is supposed to stand for.
For the record, Bobby Jefferson is an African-American, headed to Dartmouth College next fall. Nate Stockman’s mother Susan is Asian. She attended the game, then went home and cried. Her son cried, too. Not for himself. For her.
What the heck is going on with us? What are we doing?
Have we suddenly lost our minds and misplaced our collective conscience?
I’ve lived here 30 years. Today is the first day I’m embarrassed about that.
First, we had kids in a recreational league wearing jerseys bearing the words “Knee Grow’’ and “Coon’’. Now, we have students at Elder, disgracing themselves, their families and their school. When might it stop, when do the angels of our better natures reappear?
Elder High School is better than this. Its students are better. Their parents who raised them are better, the city in which they live is better. We’re all better than the racist crap we’ve had to put up with from our high school kids the last few weeks.
I know lots of Elder people. They’re good people. Their love of family and community is unquestioned and legendary. But, c’mon.
Mina Jefferson, Bobby’s mother, was in the stands Friday night. She listened to the slurs for more than a half, until St. X coach Jimmy Lallathin beseeched the referees to do something. That’s when an Elder coach told the students to cool it.
“Who’s in charge here?’’ Mina recalled thinking. “Why isn’t someone taking control? We were baffled. It was so clear. It persisted and no one did anything. This was a culture where this clearly seems to be OK.’’
Is this the image you want, Elder? Is this us, Cincinnati?
I watched the video from the Elder TV broadcast, which has since been deleted from the ehsports.com website. Even over the announcers, the racist chants could be heard. One of the announcers even marveled at the enthusiasm. “What a great atmosphere here in The Pit,’’ he suggested. For more than a half, nothing was done to shut the students up.
When the St. X fans answered the Elder students by chanting “Racists,’’ the Elder kids responded with, “Faggots.’’
I talked to two alumni of Greater Catholic League schools Tuesday. They were athletes. They’re middle-aged now. Neither recalled hearing racist chants while playing ball. Chants were general and generic: “Let’s play football’’ to schools with good basketball teams and poor football squads. “That’s all right, that’s OK, you’re gonna work for us someday.’’
This was 30-to-35 years ago. We’ve not evolved socially since then? Have we, in fact, gone backward? What the heck is going on with us? What are we doing?
“It has never been this blatant,’’ Susan Stockman said. She has heard it before, last year at Elder and this year at Oak Hills, where a few enlightened fans yelled, “Number 10, do you speak English?’’ At West Clermont, someone called Nate “a Chink.’’
“I dreaded’’ Friday night, Susan Stockman said. “From the moment he touched the ball, they were yelling, ‘A-sian, A-sian.’ It breaks my heart.’’
Elder is trying to make amends. School principal Kurt Ruffing (Elder ’81) wrote both mothers to apologize. He promised an “emergency’’ assembly at the school, “to detail expectations of conduct expected of Elder students at all times. This WILL be a learning experience.’’
The school issued a press release late Tuesday afternoon, apologizing and promising “to do better in order to reestablish your trust.’’ Mina Jefferson said the father of an Elder player offered his apologies after the game.
Jefferson appreciated Ruffing’s apology, though she called it a “form letter. Susan and I got the same letter, just with different names.’’ And in its press release, Elder says the chants started in the third quarter and Elder officals “acted quickly’’ to stop them. Neither statement is accurate. “He can’t read’’ is easily audible when Jefferson steps to the free throw line, in the first quarter.
And really, is it necessary in 2018 to hold an “emergency’’ assembly to remind your students not to use slurs?
Evidently. That’s the worst part of this whole thing. We’re better than that. I hope.