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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Officials should blow whistle on racial trash talk
Editorial Staff, Argus Leader
Published: 2/18/01

New rules might better control crowds

There are hopeful signs that South Dakota is making progress toward breaking down the blind prejudices between the majority population and American Indians.

Some are symbolic. Others have more substance, such as Government. Bill Janklow pressing the 2001 Legislature to pass a bill that would literally wipe the offensive words "squaw" and "negro" from the map by renaming geographic locations.

But for every step forward, our state sometimes takes another backward.

Such is the case of racial taunting at a Jan. 27 basketball game at the Fort Pierre gym. The game was between Todd County, a predominantly Indian school in Mission, and Stanley County, a Fort Pierre school that is mostly white.

Someone in the Stanley County cheering section shouted derogatory racist remarks. In some states, calling visiting players "prairie niggers" could be classified a hate crime. In some communities, such remarks would have caused officials to clear the gym requiring the game go on with nobody watching.

Although nothing was done at the game, Stanley County High School officials have launched an investigation into the incident. A person was identified and questioned. That person denied involvement. Statements were taken from Todd County players. And the probe continues.

In cases like this, where a person uses the anonymity of a crowd to hide behavior he or she might never consider if acting as an individual, the perpetrator is also compromised. A lot of Stanley County students and boosters likely heard the remarks. And fair-minded people often come forward and make a report.

Race baiting like this is nothing new in South Dakota. For decades, American Indian players have felt the sting of racial slurs shouted from the stands.For the most part, they've been told to ignore the insults and keep focused on the game. That may have been the practice in the past, but it should no longer be the case.

Yelling racially offensive remarks from the stands is a far cry from school spirit, even in the heat of a close game.

Most people already know racially tainted trash talk is unacceptable. Some apparently still believe they can get away with it perhaps because they've heard it practiced at home or from peers.

It occurs to us that good sportsmanship is an acquired virtue. It requires education and enforcement to become a habit for parents, fans, coaches and players.

We're puzzled by Stanley County school officials' presumption that an assembly or classes exploring cultural sensitivity would not be helpful. If ever there were an opportunity to turn something ugly into a learning experience, this is one.

It may require leadership from the state or the South Dakota High School Activities Association to properly address this issue once and for all. Perhaps the Department of Education could promulgate policies for addressing such incidents.

Referees already have the authority to take action against taunting or baiting by players on the floor. But SDHSAA believes that schools are responsible for crowd control. That's just fine, but that policy didn't work at Fort Pierre or in hundreds of other incidents suffered by American Indian players in the past.

The SDHSAA is an organization of schools. We're confident that officials at every member school disapprove of racial taunting. With school officials' support, the SDHSAA could issue rules to empower referees to act boldly in the face of racial taunting from the stands.

Game officials on the court or the field can hear what the players hear. Referees could be encouraged to issue technical fouls for such inappropriate behavior. Peer pressure and coaches would take care of the offenders especially if the team with the obnoxious fans were to lose a game or two.

There may be other, equally effective solutions to this old and loathsome behavior. But there's no ducking any longer. The ball fields and playing courts of South Dakota high schools must be swept clean of racial slurs and insults.

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