“Now, their names are pretty disgusting,” said the announcer for the home team, Newkirk High School. “But I’m going to try to call them out.”
Surprise rippled through the gymnasium as players exchanged looks of disbelief.
“What? Did he just say … No, he didn’t just say that,” an astonished spectator could be heard saying.
The fleeting remark, caught on video that has since gone viral, drew swift reactions over the weekend. By early Monday, the short clip had been watched tens of thousands of times on Facebook and YouTube.
Critics accused the announcer, who has not been formally identified, of being “racist,” noting that a majority of the players on Crooked Oak’s team are minorities. Meanwhile, the man’s defenders argued that he had misspoken, calling the incident a “simple mistake” and touting his reputation as a beloved member of the Newkirk community.
Amid the conflicting interpretations, Newkirk Public Schools superintendent Brady Barnes issued an apology Saturday for the longtime announcer’s “unfortunate and inappropriate personal comment.” The girls have not been named by school officials or local media.
“In around 20 years of announcing Newkirk games, this is the first time something like this has occurred,” Barnes wrote on Facebook. Barnes added that although the announcer did not make any other similar comments on Friday, he was removed at halftime.
“We sincerely apologize for any pain or affront our announcer’s comment has caused Crooked Oak players, parents, patrons, and school employees,” the statement said.
Crooked Oak High School is located just southeast of downtown Oklahoma City and serves a student population that is about 90 percent nonwhite, the Oklahoman reported. On Friday, the girls’ basketball team traveled roughly 120 miles north to Newkirk — a city with a population that is more than 80 percent white, according to recent census data — to compete for the district championship title.
Ahead of the game, the Newkirk announcer paid a visit to the visiting team’s coach and went over the pronunciation of the players’ names, Brad Richards, Crooked Oak Public Schools superintendent, told the Oklahoman.
But when it came time to introduce Crooked Oak’s starters, what came out of the announcer’s mouth left players, supporters and school officials reeling.
“He totally botched it,” said Richards, who was at the game.
Crooked Oak High School principal Laura Knight called the words “shocking.”
“I heard it in person,” Knight wrote on Facebook after the game. “The mama bear was coming out in me! I love these kids with my whole heart.”
Knight went on to praise the response from Newkirk administrators, writing that the announcer was replaced Friday “with a person that went to lengths to ensure that everything else was announced correctly.”
“Their administration sought out ours to apologize,” she wrote. “Their fans, administration, and coaches treated us well. I know that does not take away the hurt, but please know that they took care of it, it was not ignored.”
Some of the players’ parents weren’t appeased, though.
Lorna Pollard, who uploaded the now-viral video from Friday’s game, said that one administration apologizing to the other was not sufficient.
“I do not feel that a quiet apology is suitable for a public humiliation,” she wrote in a Facebook post Sunday, adding, “No one has reached out to the girls themselves to extend an apology. … I’m sorry if I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”
In an interview with KWTV, Tremekkia White echoed Pollard’s call for a direct apology.
“What he said was despicable and the girls should have been given a public apology, the same way they were demeaned publicly,” White said.
As the outcry continued to build over the weekend, supporters of the announcer came out in full force to defend him, criticizing the Newkirk school district for, as one person put it, “letting a school faculty member hang out to dry.”
“If something was said that was inappropriate it was definitely not intentional,” a former Newkirk High School student wrote on Facebook. “He’s an old, sweet, innocent man who just loves basketball and made a simple little slip up!"
One person, identifying himself as the announcer’s family member, shared on Facebook that the elderly man had survived a stroke.
“He makes mistake in his words just talking to him in a conversation, you would know if you weren’t so quick to judge,” the person wrote. “He is literally the most unselfish, honest, caring and loving man I know. He is a man I look up to and someone I strive to be like.”
Still, those defenses didn’t hold water with at least two Crooked Oak players, who told KOCO that the announcer’s comment ruined what should have been a night of celebration for their team. Despite the game’s uncomfortable start, the girls pulled off a victory against Newkirk to secure their school’s first district championship title in more than 20 years, KOCO reported.
“It should be a very big accomplishment, but it’s kind of getting taken away from us by something we had no control over, something as simple as having different names,” the players said.