Team wants accountability announcer ‘held accountable’
After being targeted with racist language, the Norman High School girls basketball team demanded accountability for the broadcast announcer who called them inflammatory slurs.
“I took a knee to stand against social injustice and racism,” Zya Vann, a freshman, said in a Monday news conference. “When I first read the news that our team was called the N-word, I was just in disbelief, and the broadcaster should be held accountable so something like this doesn’t happen in the future.”
In an incident drawing national outrage, announcer Matt Rowan was caught on a live microphone berating the girls with slurs when they kneeled during the national anthem before a state tournament game Thursday.
While live streaming on the NFHS Network, Rowan said he hoped they “get their ass kicked.” The NFHS said it has cut ties with Rowan and the crew broadcasting the game.
Rowan, the owner of the sports streaming service OSPN, apologized in a written statement Friday and blamed his use of racist language on his spiking blood sugar levels — a comment that sparked widespread scrutiny.
The players and their parents gathered in a virtual news conference Monday with civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Mike Laux. They said taking a knee was a team decision made early in the season.
“We all just decided to come as a team and kneel together because we wanted to bring attention and awareness to the fact that racism is still alive and well today,” said Chantae Embry, a senior. “Just hearing those words, what he said was very heartbreaking, but we had to push that to the side just because we had one goal (which) was to win the state tournament.”
The undefeated Norman Tigers beat the Bixby Spartans 48-37 for the Class 6A state championship on Saturday, one day after Rowan’s comments went viral.
Myka Perry, a junior, said the racist comments reflect “exactly why we decided to kneel in the first place.”
“You don’t have to agree with us kneeling, but you do have to respect it just how we respect people’s decisions to stay standing during the anthem,” she said.
The girls and their parents called for a stronger condemnation of the announcer from the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, the governing body over high school athletics in the state. They also asked that NFHS no longer broadcast any Norman school sports.
The OSSAA had hired Rowan to live stream and provide commentary on state tournament games on the NFHS Network.
The team is not seeking legal action against Rowan at this time.
Laux said he and Crump’s law firms are looking into whether the OSSAA or NFHS knew of any problematic incidents before hiring Rowan to stream Norman’s game.
The OSSAA and NFHS apologized Friday and said they are investigating.
“This kind of behavior will not be tolerated by anyone representing the NFHS or OSSAA,” they said in a statement. “We will make further comments as we finish our investigation.”
Norman Athletic Director T.D. O’Hara said NFHS has not contacted Norman Public Schools to apologize nor to offer a resolution. O’Hara sent a letter to athletic directors across the state on Monday encouraging all school districts to drop live streaming agreements affiliated with NFHS.
Norman Mayor Breea Clark and state lawmakers representing the city also have demanded action from the OSSAA, suggesting implicit bias training or stricter screening of future announcers.
Robert Washington, father of Norman senior Kelbie Washington, said he doesn’t want the incident swept under the rug.
“I just want the individual held accountable,” Washington said. “I don’t want it to be a situation where he’s five years down the road doing it in another state or another venue.”
Other team parents said they were inspired by their daughters’ decision to kneel and outraged at Rowan’s comments.
“It infuriated me to the core,” said Lynn Orrell, whose daughter Ansley is a junior on the team. “I don’t understand in this day and age how any of those thoughts are even in people’s heads.”
Support for the team poured in from across the state and country. Local politicians and activists condemned Rowan’s comments and defended the girls’ decision to kneel. The WNBA players’ association sent a letter to the Tigers on Sunday to voice support and congratulate them on their state title.
“All across America and the world people have saluted these young ladies for standing up for what is right, to declare that racism has no place in this world,” Crump said. “They’re teaching the adults. They’re teaching society.”
Crump has represented the families of highly publicized victims of violence and police shootings, including the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.