While Donald Trump strengthens his grip on the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, more accounts are emerging of high school students using his name and likeness to taunt minority players at basketball games. Following an incident in Iowa early last week, another one occurred Friday less than 400 miles away in Indiana, the second episode prompting statements of concern from school officials and a local Catholic bishop.
Whereas some students at a high school game in Iowa chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at another team that featured a racially diverse mix of players, the students in Indiana displayed images of the candidate and chanted “Build a wall!” at a rival school that is heavily Hispanic. The latter school’s supporters reportedly chanted back, “You’re a racist!”
Given that the Indiana game occurred between two Catholic high schools, Andrean and Bishop Noll, Bishop Donald J. Hying issued a statement Monday saying (via the Northwest Indiana Times), “Any actions or words that can be perceived as racist or derogatory to others are antithetical to the Christian faith and will not be tolerated in any of our institutions.” Hying said that the actions of the Andrean students were “not to be tolerated, even as a childish prank.”
A fan who attended that game because her cousin plays for Bishop Noll said that, in addition to images of Trump, Andrean students also displayed signs that referred to Latina characters from pop culture. “When I looked across the gym, the signs that I saw from Andrean were the Trump fathead posters, the ESPN Deportes [the sports network’s Spanish-language channel] sign, a sign from ‘Dora the Explorer,’ and the ‘Family Guy’ Hispanic maid,” Ashley Howard told CNN.
Trump kicked off his presidential campaign with controversial comments about Mexican immigrants, saying that “they’re bringing drugs” and are “rapists.” He has also offended many, while attracting support from others, with his stated views on Muslims.
A pair of Bishop Noll officials, Principal Craig Stafford and school president Paul Mullaney, said in a statement that Friday’s incident “perhaps was an unfortunate byproduct of irresponsible speech in today’s political arena.” They described the aftermath as “a teachable moment for everyone about responsible speech, social media and sportsmanship.”
“With the political climate the way that it is, it’s a little more charged,” said Dan Marburger, the principal of the Iowa high school whose players were taunted last week. He told CNN that some of his students, at a school with an usually high percentage of minorities for that part of the state, feel that “this inflamed rhetoric is happening and it’s okay. No one is stopping it. They see it in a presidential campaign and now it’s okay for everyone to say this. It’s almost a sense that you feel that you don’t belong in your own country.”
According to ABC7 Chicago, some Andrean supporters said after their game that the intention was not to offend and that they have used the pro-USA motifs at other contests. “It was jovial,” Andrean parent George Galanos said of the game against Bishop Noll. “It was a lot of fun. There was hugging going on between the teams.”
“As soon as administrators were made aware of such activities, actions were taken to stop such taunts and confiscate items from the student section,” Andrean Principal Rick Piwowarski said in a statement (via nwitimes.com). “At Andrean, we take very seriously the allegations that members of the public have placed on our shoulders. Those allegations are inconsistent with our school’s mission as well as the proven reputation of compassion and service that Andrean has offered Northwest Indiana for over fifty years.”
“We are proud of our diversity,” Stafford and Mullaney said. “Our diversity is our strength.”