Foul comments aired
Streaming service broadcast racist remarks ahead of a basketball playoff game
An announcer for an online broadcast directed highly inflammatory, racist comments toward the Norman girls basketball team ahead of its quarterfinal matchup with Midwest City on Thursday at Sapulpa.
Matt Rowan, the owner and operator of the streaming service OSPN, told The Oklahoman he was the person who made the racially insensitive remarks.
A live microphone caught him making racist comments after members of the Norman girls basketball team kneeled for the national anthem.
Rowan, while broadcasting on the NFHS Network, can be heard saying, "They're kneeling? (Expletive) (racial slur). I hope Norman get their ass
kicked. (Expletive) them. I hope they lose...
"They're going to kneel like that? Hell no."
Rowan apologized Friday and blamed his use of racist language on his blood sugar levels.
"I will state that I suffer Type 1 Diabetes and during the game my sugar was spiking," Rowan said in a written statement. "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 that I would have made such horrible statements absent my sugar spiking."
The Norman girls basketball team played Tulsa Union on Friday in the semifinals at Sapulpa. Spectators applauded as both teams kneeled during the national anthem.
Video of Rowan's comments went viral Friday morning. Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino released a statement condemning Rowan's "disgusting words" as hate speech.
"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," Migliorino said. "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."
The Norman school district will rely solely on its long-standing community partner SportsTalk Media to live stream the remainder of the tournament, Migliorino said.
Tahlequah Public Schools said Friday afternoon in a Facebook post that it has used the same broadcast crew in the past but will not moving forward.
Rowan was hired by the governing body over all high school athletics in the state, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, to broadcast the game on the NFHS Network. The OSSAA and NFHS both released apologetic statements Friday morning.
"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 not be tolerated by anyone representing the NFHS or OSSAA. State tournament playoffs are a special time for our schools, their students and their communities, 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."
The NFHS said it was "sickened" by Rowan's comments.
"The thoughts expressed in no way represent the NFHS Network and we are outraged that they found their way into our production," the network said in a statement. "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."
Norman Mayor Breea Clark said a statement isn't enough from the network or the OSSAA. To prevent a similar incident from happening again, she urged for measurable action from the OSSAA, such as implicit bias training or screening of the announcers hired for Oklahoma high school games.
Clark said she would host a town hall with Norman youth to hear their input. The mayor has been in contact with parents of the players targeted with racial slurs.
"I asked, ‘How is your daughter doing?'" Clark said. "She said her response was, ‘This is why we kneel,’ because there’s a problem. These brave young women aren’t afraid to address it and call it out when they see it. They’re real heroes in this situation."
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister called the comments "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," Hofmeister said. "My heart aches for the young female athletes who were subjected to this hateful and disgusting tirade."
Oklahoma City NAACP President Garland Pruitt commended the students who kneeled during the national anthem — a gesture that has become a symbol of protest against police brutality and racial injustice.
Pruitt said the announcer's comments reflect the "same attitude" of Oklahoma lawmakers who advanced a bill this week that would grant immunity to drivers who strike protesters.
He said it was another example of failure to protect people of color in Oklahoma, a state that once led the world in incarceration rates and regularly ranks near the bottom in education funding.
“When I first heard it, I said to myself, ‘Just another day in the neighborhood,’" Pruitt said. "In other words, these are the type of attitudes that too many of those that are in a position to correct, to fix, to change, to address issues have a tendency to take.”
This isn't the first time in the high school basketball postseason that students were racially abused.
A fight broke out Feb. 25 at the Newcastle High School gym after students targeted African American players from John Marshall High School with racial slurs. Newcastle Superintendent Melonie Hau apologized and said a student who used racist language has been disciplined.
However, the school district disputed allegations that racial slurs erupted from the Newcastle student section throughout the basketball game while supervising adults were within earshot. Oklahoma City Public Schools said its investigation of the incident concluded that students used racist taunts throughout the evening.
“I say this clearly — our kids, our staff, our parents, and our supporters should never have to face being the subject of racial attacks and slurs at any school event,” Oklahoma City School Board Chairperson Paula Lewis said in a written statement. “Our kids should not feel like they have to fight to defend themselves.”
Correction: The Oklahoman in an earlier version of this story identified an individual as the person who made the racist comments, based on official sources who were familiar with the incident. That information was incorrect.