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Racial slurs on the sports field: Carroll County incident shows need for swift, strong consequences | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones warms up before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, in Boston. Jones called the incident in which he said fans inside Fenway Park yelled racial slurs at him and threw a bag of peanuts in his direction was "unfortunate," with no place in today's game.
Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones warms up before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, in Boston. Jones called the incident in which he said fans inside Fenway Park yelled racial slurs at him and threw a bag of peanuts in his direction was "unfortunate," with no place in today's game. (The Associated Press)

Most athletes expect a little trash talking in sports as players try to get into each other’s heads to win the upper hand. Success in sports is as much about the mental game as it is about athletic prowess. But what one Manchester Valley player says he experienced during a recent lacrosse game crossed the line from good-natured goading into pure, unadulterated hate.

The player, who The Sun is not identifying because he is a minor, said in a social media post that several players from the opposing Francis Scott Key High School “continuously threw racial slurs” at him, calling him the N-word every time he made a good play during a recent lacrosse game. He said he felt “uncomfortable and targeted the whole game.” It resulted in an investigation by administrators from both schools.

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We may never know what the outcome of the investigation is because of rules that prohibits sharing student records. But so far, it appears Carroll County Schools Superintendent Steven Lockard has taken a tough-line stance on the incident, saying this kind of behavior “needs to stop permanently.” We hope he follows through with swift and appropriate punishment for whomever uttered the words. There should be zero tolerance for the use of racial slurs made in a way made to degrade another student. And the only way to show the school systems mean business is with a punishment that makes the players feel the consequences.

That could be suspension from school or from playing sports for a period of time. The status of athlete is a badge of honor for many students and the ticket to college scholarships for some. Losing the ability to play would be a hard-felt consequence. (Mr. Lockard has already indicated students could lose the “privilege” of playing sports.) A slap on the wrist won’t necessarily stop future bad behavior or help the students understand the offensiveness of the N-word.

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The use of the word is marginalizing and belittling to African American people. In the athletic world, it is often directed at people of color playing sports historically dominated by white players. When former Baltimore Orioles All-Star center fielder Adam Jones was attacked in 2017 with the N-word at Boston Fenway Park, and then had a bag of peanuts thrown at him, he described it as one of the worst cases of fan abuse in his career. He was one of just 62 African American players on opening day roster that year, according to USA Today. Fans were ejected from the ballpark, but Mr. Jones said at the time the punishment didn’t fit the offense. He suggested fines, something that would have impact.

Right now too many people feel comfortable using such despicable language — and some African American players find themselves too often letting it slide, not only in high school sports, but at the professional level too. Mr. Jones said it wasn’t the first time he was berated with such racist taunting. The Carroll County student said he knows he’s not the only athlete who has endured the derogatory language. The mother of Black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace has said other drivers for years have been “quick to throw out the N-word” when they get into a disagreement with her son.

Michael Duffy, Carroll County schools supervisor of athletics, said in an email to The Sun that the student code of conduct applies to extracurricular activities including athletics and that sportsmanship is an expectation announced prior to each game. The school system is also looking at the needs for “character development and diversity awareness” within the athletic program.

That is a good thing because some student athletes clearly haven’t gotten the message that racism won’t be tolerated. A lesson in racial intolerance should become mandatory for all athletes, and coaches for that matter too. A system also needs to be developed so that athletes who feel discriminated against have a platform to file a complaint without fear of retribution. They shouldn’t have to deal with such behavior on their own. And if punishing individual students doesn’t do the trick, a system for retribution on the entire team when one player misbehaves probably would.

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The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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