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Tyler Williams' family responds to UAFS investigations into racial discrimination

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The family of Tyler Williams, a former University of Arkansas-Fort Smith basketball player who alleged racial discrimination by his former coach, released a letter Wednesday in response to investigations by representation for UAFS coach Jim Boone and the school’s human resources department.

In those investigations, The Mars Law Firm, which represents Boone, disputed Williams’ allegations of racial discrimination, claiming the 22-year-old “intended to transfer from UA-FS all along and knew that, unless he could show his transfer was the result of being mistreated by the coaching staff or being ‘run off,’ the NCAA rules would prohibit him playing basketball at another school next year.” UA-FS’s investigation did not find “substantial evidence” to support allegations of racial discrimination.

The Williams’ letter disputed the claims presented by the two investigations, citing Williams’ completion of course enrollment weeks before the start of school, the completion of a UAFS housing agreement, and moving into his campus suite the day before the Aug. 16 meeting in which he was dismissed by Boone.

“Completions of the above things amongst others are not the behaviors and actions of a student who wishes to transfer three days prior to school beginning as falsely reported,” the Williams’ letter reads. “Our intentions and motive were for Tyler to continue his education at UAFS and graduate in May 2020 with a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Leadership and a member of the UAFS Basketball team.”

Williams, an Edmond native who played high school basketball at Edmond Santa Fe, has since enrolled at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany where he is awaiting word on his NCAA eligibility for the 2019-20 season. Because Williams is transferring to his third four-year university in four years, he doesn’t meet the conditions of a one-time transfer exemption for immediate eligibility, per the NCAA. SNU must apply for a waiver to decide if Williams is eligible or must sit out a required “year in residence.”

Williams’ initial allegation of racial discrimination stems from his first meeting with Boone, who was hired in April from Delta State University. In that initial meeting, Williams, who has dreadlocks, said Boone allegedly told him he didn’t like his hair and wouldn’t recruit players with hair like his.

In an Aug. 16 meeting with Williams and his family, when Williams brings up that encounter to Boone and that Boone said he wouldn’t recruit players with that hair, Boone says “probably not.” Since then, university chancellor Terisa Riley said in a statement that UAFS “will not condone or allow a policy, procedure or practice – conveyed verbally or in writing – to dictate the hair styles or hair lengths for its student athletes.”

Boone released a statement through the university Sept. 12 in which he said “I’m sorry that I responded reactively during the meeting on August 16, 2019,” and that his response was out of character, but the Williams family claims Boone has not apologized to them personally, nor has Riley.

In the letter, the Williams family also disputes a claim from The Mars Law Firm investigation that Williams can be heard after the Aug. 16 meeting laughing and having a friendly conversation with a UAFS assistant coach. Williams recorded the meeting with Boone and left his recorder on.

The Williams family said that the claim by The Mars Law Firm is false, and that the voices were of a UAFS recruit with assistant coach Jimmy Boone - Jim Boone’s son - but not Williams.

“Boone has sadly mistaken one African-American family’s voice for another,” the Williams family wrote. “We are sorry to inform you that all African-American families don’t sound alike. Had Boone confirmed this with his son and hallway security film, he would have known. The recruit and his family kindly asked Tyler to take their photo to which Tyler obliged.”

Among other disputes in the letter are that Williams wasn’t going to get much playing time in the upcoming season among an influx of new recruits and transfers who would have played over him. Williams was UAFS’s leading returning scorer and the Heartland Conference’s leader in free throw percentage as a junior.

“When you are the leading PPG (points per game) returning player on the UAFS team in addition to leading the 9-school conference in free throw percentage, playing time is not the issue,” the Williamses wrote. “It was Boone’s so-called ‘out of character’ behavior and Boone dismissing Tyler from the team that led us to this point.”

The Williamses said they received a letter from UAFS director of human resources/EEO officer Beverly McClendon to Tyler which said Boone could have communicated his grooming policy better regarding hair length and demonstrated greater sensitivity to avoid his stance being misconstrued.

The Williamses say hair length was not the issue, but style.

“Boone discriminated against the style of his hair as you can clearly hear in the audio,” the Williamses letter read, referring to the Aug. 16 meeting. “It is puzzling to us and the world how you can find his stance non-discriminatory when Tyler’s natural dreadlocked hair is exclusive to African-Americans.”

In the letter from McClendon the Williams family provided to The Oklahoman, McClendon writes that based on the interviews conducted and records reviewed, the university didn’t find Boone’s “policies or actions were based on race.”

“Many things have transpired on the campus of UAFS to try and right the wrong that has been done,” reads the closing of the Williamses letter. “Such acts fall on deaf ears when Boone chooses to not own his actions and behaviors that have caused pain on others. Coach Boone, we demand that you step up and OWN IT! UAFS, own the fact this was handled poorly. Own the fact you have caused a scholar and student-athlete to feel unwanted on your campus. Own the fact that this incident has forever placed a stain on the citizens and community of Fort Smith, Arkansas that the world can now see. Until there is a verbal and written apology to our son and family, your actions are futile and show no respect for our family, the university or the citizens of Fort Smith, Arkansas.”

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Erik Horne

Erik Horne is in his fourth season on the Thunder beat. Horne joined The Oklahoman as a sports web editor/producer in September 2013 following a five-year stint at The Ardmoreite (Ardmore) – first as a sports writer, then sports editor. At The... Read more ›