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Norman Public Schools reacts to 'racist comments' about school's athletes

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Posted at 11:37 AM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 23:40:20-05

TULSA, Okla. — Announcers for the National Federation of High Schoolsports are under fire after a video posted on Twitter revealed an offensive exchange about athletes kneeling during the national anthem.

It happened last night during the Norman-Midwest City girls basketball game played in Sapulpa. In the background the anthem is playing. The announcers are heard talking and seem not to realize it is being broadcast and made inappropriate comments, one announcer is heard using a racial slur.

Matt Rowan is identifying himself as the announcer who made the comments Thursday. Rowan explained what he thinks led to the comments, saying in part:

“…I suffer type 1 diabetes and during the game my sugar was spiking. 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. I do not believe I would have made such horrible statements absent my sugar spiking.”

He goes on to say he’s not a racist, and "I offer my most sincere apologies for the inappropriate comments made and hope that I can obtain forgiveness.”

Norman High School girl's basketball coach Mike Neal said the team didn't want the comments to take away from its success. He said the focus is on basketball.

"All we came here to do was to play some basketball and be together, united in an inclusive way," he said. "And that's what we've been doing all year long and it's not going to stop there for these girls."

Many Norman fans were angry and upset over the comments.

"The hate. The hatred," said Torri Holman. "It was just very uncalled for. It was just very blatantly disrespectful."

Cherelle Embry's sister plays for the Norman High School girl's basketball team. She said the comments made her angry, but they're not new.

"Just growing up as a Black woman, as a Black person in general, we kind of know that these things happen behind closed doors, but now it's being filmed, "Embry said. "It shows people's true feelings, how they think about you behind closed doors, but in your face, they'll smile, pat you on the back. But they really do think these things of you."

Norman defeated Union Friday afternoon to advance to the state championship game on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

Norman Public Schools announced a change in streaming partners for future games due to the incident.

“Last night during the Norman High School girls’ basketball game versus Midwest City in the Oklahoma 6A State Basketball Tournament, National Federation of High School (NFHS) Network announcers on a live stream broadcast made racist and hateful comments targeted at our Norman High student athletes. The announcers were contracted by OSSAA for the state tournament.

We condemn and will not tolerate the disgusting words and attitudes of these announcers. This type of hate speech has no place in our society and we are outraged that it would be directed at any human being, and particularly at our students.

We fully support our students’ right to freedom of expression and our immediate focus is to support these girls and their coaches and families, particularly our Black students and coaching staff. It is tragic that the hard work and skill of this team is being overshadowed by the vile, malignant words of these individuals. We will do everything in our power to support and uplift our team and everyone affected by this incident.

Moving forward NPS will rely only on our long-standing, community partner SportsTalk Media to live stream the remainder of the tournament, as we have full confidence in their proven ability to respectfully support our student athletes.”

The NFHS also reacted to the exchange,

"We were sickened by the comments made last night at the start of the NFHS Network’s broadcast of the OSSAA girls basketball game between Norman High School and Midwest City High School. The thoughts expressed in no way represent the NFHS Network and we are outraged that they found their way into our production. The NFHS Network firmly condemns racism, hate and discrimination, and there is no room for this in high school sports or anywhere. We sincerely apologize to the students, their families and the entire community for having such ignorant comments expressed during the broadcast. We are aggressively investigating the incident and will ensure that any individuals responsible will have no relationship with the NFHS Network moving forward."

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activites Association is also investigating the incident,

"The OSSAA was made aware that some very offensive, inappropriate comments were made during the NFHS livestream broadcast of the quarter final state tournament basketball game between the Norman High School and Midwest City girls teams at Sapulpa High School Thursday night.

On behalf of the NFHS Network and the OSSAA, we sincerely apologize that this happened at one of our events. While we are currently investigating the incident, this crew will not be doing any more games for the remainder of our championships. This kind of behavior will never be tolerated by anyone representing the NFHS or OSSAA. State tournament playoffs are a special time for our schools, their students, and their communitites, and anything that is counter-productive to education-based activities will be addressed immediately and appropriately.

We will make further comments as we finish our investigation."

State Education Secretary Joy Hofmeister also expressed heartache for the athletes that heard these comments:

“The remarks made were sickening and vile. It is critical on all of us to be clear that racism has no place in society and must never be tolerated, especially in our public schools. My heart aches for the young female athletes who were subjected to this hateful and disgusting tirade.”

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