Racist taunt in Fowlerville is another in a series involving Michigan high school athletics

By: - February 9, 2022 8:33 am

Fowlerville High School courtesy photo

A school investigation has found that a Fowlerville basketball player did use a racial slur against a Black player from Haslett during a high school game last month, the latest in a series of similar incidents at high school games in Michigan.

On Jan. 27, during a boys’ basketball game at Fowlerville High School, fans sitting in the student section made what were described as “loud monkey motions and sounds” directed at Black Haslett High School players, while parents of one of the Haslett players allege their son and his teammates were subjected to racial slurs by players during the game.

While Fowlerville Superintendent Wayne Roedel previously acknowledged that monkey sounds came from their student section, on Monday he confirmed for the Michigan Advance that a player had used a racial slur, an allegation he initially told the  Lansing State Journal was “blatantly false.”

After an investigation, the school determined that a player from the earlier game made a “racist remark to a Haslett player that was unacceptable,” Roedel said, adding that the high school’s administration, athletic director and family met to discuss the incident and its consequences. He did not elaborate as to what those were, as those involved are minors.

“Our findings have been shared with the Haslett administration and hopefully our sincerest apologies and regret forwarded to the Haslett family involved,” said Roedel. “We are not proud of the actions of a few and hope to use this as a learning experience for all of our students and families.”

A request for comment was sent to Haslett Superintendent Steven Cook, but was not returned.

As for the racist animal sounds that came from the fan section that night, Roedel said that the district’s administration will continue investigating that “until such time they believe they have exhausted all leads that implicate any individual who made racist noises during the basketball game.” 

Roedel told the Lansing State Journal that a parent from the Haslett team identified three students who they believed to have been responsible for making the sounds, but that after speaking with the students, Fowlerville Athletic Director Brian Osborn “did not have enough facts” to remove them. Instead, the decision was made to contact the Haslett athletic director and the principal of Fowlerville High to inform them of the incident. 

Haslett High School | Susan J. Demas

However, one of the complaints made by the parents of a Haslett player is that the authorities in Fowlerville were guilty of what they called “dismissive and blatant inaction,” a charge echoed by state civil rights leaders. 

Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) Director John Johnson Jr. told the Michigan Advance last week that it is solely the responsibility of school officials, whether teachers, administrators or coaches, to maintain control of the environment at these games. 

“Certainly, there’s a need for accountability,” he said. “To ignore the situation without taking those individuals who perpetuated it to account causes a problem and obviously allows it to occur again. So that situation should be controlled not only by the people who are officiating the game, but also the officials who certainly have some control over the students and the actions that they might have later on or during the game itself.”

The issue of racial taunting at high school sporting events is not new, with several instances of it reported in just the last few months. In late November, Mason High School fans were accused of yelling racial slurs at football players for Detroit’s Martin Luther King Jr. High School during a semifinal playoff game. 

Earlier that month, an obscenity was yelled out by a spectator at a playoff game at South Lyon, as the East Lansing team took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. There also was an allegation of racial taunting by players in that game, although that was denied by South Lyon officials. 

In September, players for the Bedford High School junior varsity team were accused of using the n-word against players for Ann Arbor Pioneer, resulting in Ann Arbor’s head varsity coach forfeiting the varsity game the following night in protest.

When asked about this pattern, Geoff Kimmerly, communications director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), told the Michigan Advance that their role in these incidents has been to let the schools work it out. 

“Our role is to get the schools in communication with each other so they can share findings, etc. — and these two [Fowlerville and Haslett] already had begun the conversation.”

Roedel confirmed that the two districts are talking and that it is not an issue being ignored, adding that they plan to work toward eliminating it in the future. 

“The district has strict policies on harassment, discrimination, etc. as well as clear student code of conduct language,” he said. “Administration will continue to apply the consequences outlined in the handbook in regards to their findings. The behavior of some in the student section is unacceptable and will be closely monitored in the future.”

But for Anthony Lewis, who heads up the MDCR’s Community Engagement Team, accountability must apply to officials, as well as students. 

“The school officials need to be involved because it is their buildings that this is happening in,” Lewis said. “So they do have to ensure that there’s accountability, that they have a certain level of accountability to ensure this stops.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.