The 16-year-old said multiple Connellsville players called him and his other black teammates the n-word on the field, uttering the slur just out of earshot of the officials.
“One time I watched a player walk up to my teammate’s ear and say it,” Williams said this week. “And when he told the ref, the referee did nothing.”
The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, the region’s governing body for high school sports, is investigating the incident. In the meantime, the Penn Hills School District canceled all games against the Connellsville Area School District until the investigation is concluded.
“It was so disturbing that it warranted our position and immediate involvement of WPIAL,” Nancy Hines, Penn Hills superintendent, told the Tribune-Review.
The WPIAL has rules mandating that member schools take “preventative measures to discourage negative behaviors.” Williams said that never happened.
Jonah Silverman, who also plays for Penn Hills, said the verbal abuse began early in the match, soon after Penn Hills scored the first goal.
After the goal, Silverman said, one of his teammates, who is black, walked up to him and said, “Hey, they just called me the n-word.”
As Connellsville took control of the game, Silverman said, the atmosphere became chippy, and the verbal abuse more brazen.
“It just got hostile after that,” he said.
The Penn Hills players allege that the racism extended off the field and into the Connellsville student section. While he was on the sideline readying for a throw-in, Williams said, the few dozen fans in the bleachers started yelling normal sporting taunts at him, making fun of his throwing motion and laughing about the score.
He turned around and yelled “shut up” at the stands. In response, Williams said, fans yelled back, “Shut the f— up, you f—–g n—–.”
Timothy O’Malley, WPIAL’s executive director, said he did not yet know all the details of last Thursday’s incident, and that the results of the investigation will be released by next Tuesday, after information from Connellsville, Penn Hills and the match’s referees are presented at the organization’s monthly board meeting Monday.
“Apparently there were comments made that were racially insensitive,” he said. “But I don’t know beyond that. I wasn’t there.”
Joseph Bradley, the superintendent of Connellsville Area School District, said in a statement that the district is fully cooperating with the investigation.
Williams said this is the first time he has been the victim of racism on the field; O’Malley said he is unaware of any other similar situations in WPIAL competition.
Penn Hills players tried to make the officials and a police officer who was standing near the bleachers aware of the racist taunts, but according to Williams, their complaints fell on deaf ears.
“What the police officer said was he heard nothing,” Williams said. “What the referee said was he heard nothing. And all the kids say we’re lying.”
As Penn Hills players walked past the bleachers on their way to the team bus after the game, the verbal abuse continued, the players said. Williams said the n-word was shouted repeatedly at him and his two other black teammates.
“It’s unfair that they get to say things about us and basically get a slap on the wrist. But if I were to say it, I’d get kicked off the team,” he said.
Williams’s mother, Toya, who grew up in Penn Hills, and close family friend Lisa Silverman, who is Jonah’s mother and has been a teacher in the neighboring district for more than two decades, said they’ve heard of similar incidents in the region.
Toya Williams said her nephew, who played quarterback for a nearby school, was spat on and called the n-word at games. Silverman teaches in the Woodland Hills School District, whose high school marching band was subjected to racist remarks after a recent football game, according to the Tribune-Review.
“The fact that my kids had to endure that and the fact that now Penn Hills kids had to endure the very same treatment, to me, just speaks to a trend,” Ron Coursey, the athletic director for the Woodland Hills district, told the paper.
In black families across America, parents have conversations with children about how to conduct themselves when stopped by the police. Toya Williams lamented the fact that she now she has to have a different talk with her son, who came home in tears after the loss to Connellsville.
“I should’ve known better,” she said. “We already had the police officer talk; now I got to have the ‘how to play sports in a different type of community’ conversation. It’s getting old. It’s 2018. Can’t we figure something else out here?”
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