Powder-puff football games — where girls play football traditionally coached by male players on a school’s varsity team — are an annual tradition at a number of schools across America. Some 60 miles from St. Louis, Missouri’s Sullivan High School is no exception. The 2014 powder-puff games between teams comprised of all freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors featured one squad comprised entirely of white players who wore full blackface, an act of poor taste which would seem to be particularly distressing given Sullivan’s relative proximity to the events that transpired in Ferguson, Mo.
Yet that clear insensitivity never even occurred to the girls in question, according to the school’s principal. More troubling still is that the principal herself apparently didn’t see anything wrong with the blackface competitors, either, according to an interview with St. Louis alternative news outlet The Riverfront Times.
“And then I thought, ‘Oh, they don’t mean anything by it. Just let it go. No one thinks anything of it,'” Sullivan principal Jennifer Schmidt told the Riverfront Times. “I didn’t think anyone did. Evidently, someone did.”
Sullivan did admit to the outlet that her initial reaction upon seeing the girls in blackface was, “Oh my gosh,” so perhaps she shouldn’t be surprised. The incident emerged as a flashpoint after photos of the blackface squad were posted to Facebook, where Schmidt insists that some got the wrong intention.
In fact, the principal noted that face paint on the senior team, as depicted here, is a common tradition during the school’s powder-puff tournament. The goal is to intimidate the underclassmen teams, though there was no indication that any team had ever shown up in blackface before, but rather a combination of the school’s black and gold colors.
“So that’s what they wore,” says Schmidt. “There was nothing racial about it. They didn’t have any other intention other than to just try to intimidate the underclassmen.”
“I can assure you they will not be wearing black face paint again,” she says. “In fact, we’re probably just going to end the face-paint thing, and nobody wears any at all.”
That’s a good start, though it may not entirely bring back some of the goodwill that has sapped out in the days after the photos came to light.