The Snapchat had just about every offensive topic the middle school students could cram into a video clip: race-based simulated sexual assaults, profanity-laced slurs and repulsive language that shocked whoever the intended audience was — and, eventually, many more people.
In a flash, the Short Pump Middle School football team’s sexual and racist video clip has rocketed nationwide, the latest reminder that Internet posts can have enduring, devastating effects in the real world.
In this case, those consequences were swift: According to the Associated Press, the rest of the team’s season has been canceled; police are investigating the students seen in the video; and the whole team — now the face of a viral video — has to undergo sensitivity training.
The students recorded the video sometime last week, and someone shared it on Snapchat. It ultimately got out and spread in this Richmond suburb of nearly 25,000.
The video is captioned: “What really goes on in the football locker room.” In the clip, some of the team’s white football players simulate sex acts on the black members, bending them over benches or gyrating against them on the floor, according to Richmond CBS affiliate WTVR. Another caption says “We gonna f— the black outta these black children from Uganda.”
An edited version of the video — and a full account of the outrage it was sparking — was broadcast on a local TV news station. Parents were angered. Police were called. And the School Board decided it had to act.
In a message to the community posted Friday on Facebook, the Henrico County School Board said it was “deeply concerned” by the video.
“Adamantly, behavior of this type will not be tolerated in our schools,” the letter said. “. . . We have extremely high expectations, and students who fail to meet the Code of Student Conduct standards will be addressed promptly and appropriately.”
The letter also outlined the punishment those implicated would face:
The remaining games would be forfeited, but practices would continue, with a big change: “A mandatory component of practices will be discussions that focus on reporting responsibilities, accountability, ethics, sexual harassment, and racial tolerance.”
But questions still swirled: Why wasn’t an adult in the locker room, supervising the kids, per school policy? Why didn’t school officials notify parents before the news broadcast? And why punish an entire team for the inappropriate behavior of a few students?
No one has been charged over the video, and news outlets said investigators were trying to determine whether the black students in the video were a part of a very bad joke or were filmed against their will.
As the investigation continues, some claim that the district’s punishment — especially against the students who didn’t take part in the video — went too far, while others said school leaders didn’t go far enough.
Lorraine Wright of the Richmond-based I Vote for Me human rights group, told NBC affiliate WWBT that her organization is filing a federal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. I Vote for Me advocates for equality in education.
“Clearly, the intent was to dehumanize the boy of color, and that’s something we can’t sweep under the rug and mischaracterize as ‘offensive and wrong’ because it was way beyond that,” she said.
There are a myriad examples of young people stumbling over the hazy line between free speech and offensive language, Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California, told The Washington Post last year.
The difference now is that those stumbles can be instantly captured on video and transmitted to the world.
“It’s a process that we go through every generation — reteaching and relearning what the linguistic boundaries are,” Armour said. “It’s like every year or two I turn on the TV and I see, yet again, some college students learning that you can’t wear an Afro and blackface to the Halloween party.”