Good-natured teasing and ribbing is expected between sports teams as they compete, but when racism is used to attack or belittle an opponent it is socially and morally unacceptable.
During a basketball game on Feb. 3, a rivalry between Pittsburgh’s Brentwood High School and Monessen High School reached a new level of unsportsmanlike conduct when two students from the predominantly white Brentwood team taunted the predominantly black Monessen team with monkey sounds while dressed in banana suits.
According to witnesses no one stepped in to stop the students from mocking the Monessen team.
Members of Brentwood’s basketball team also were accused of calling Monessen players “monkeys” and “cotton pickers” during the game.
Just as troubling as the blatant racism towards the Monessen team is the fact that the issue is largely being downplayed.
Ronald Dufalla, the Brentwood superintendent, said the situation had been addressed and the banana suited students were appropriately disciplined. What, if any, punishment that was handed out was not disclosed.
Dufalla is also being accused of minimizing the event to make it seem like less severe of a problem.
It is up to school officials and parents to teach children that racism is wrong and cruel, but when those in charge of instilling these morals act as if it is not an important issue, it only perpetuates the unfounded hatred.
No one at the basketball game in Pennsylvania stepped in to stop the actions of the students, showing that racism is still considered acceptable or something not worth standing up against. Incidents like this are not isolated, this is something that occurs all too often in sports.
In a September 2011 National Hockey League game in London, Ontario, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers had a banana thrown at him as he prepared to take part in a shootout against the Detroit Red Wings.
International rugby player and commentator Andrew Johns was banned from rugby after aiming several racial slurs towards fellow players Greg Inglis and Timana Tahu.
Australian Anthony Mundine cited racism as the reason he quit playing rugby and became a boxer.
Although in some cases there have been consequences for racially charged actions and words, there has not been enough done to draw proper attention to the problem or deter it from happening. Simply “addressing the problem” will not effectively stop racism, especially in high school sports.
Even on first instances, high school teams that use racist words or actions against their opponents should be required to forfeit the rest of their season. When it comes to professional sports, suspensions, fines and community service should be implemented to discourage and educate athletes about the damaging effects of hateful beliefs.
The United States has a long history of its citizens fighting and dying for equal rights, and racism still being an issue in competition is a step backwards for society.
All athletes should be able to play the sport they love without the fear of being heckled, harassed or belittled. Especially for younger people, sports are a way of teaching teamwork, fairness and healthy competition.
Part of playing sports is learning how to win and lose with grace and humility, and if children are permitted to berate their opponents with racist behavior it negates the positive aspects of being part of a team. Allowing this behavior to continue without punishment reinforces the belief that racism is acceptable.
The fact that racism is apparent in sports, which are supposed to be equal and fair, is unacceptable.
The issue needs to be discussed more openly and in public forums to bring attention to and begin the process of eliminating racism from sports and fostering sportsmanlike behavior.