Nobody Wins – On the Racial Incident at Haddonfield Memorial High School

Not sure how many of you are following this story, since it broke late Friday and nothing new happened until this afternoon.

Long story short, Haddonfield High School cancelled the remainder of the boy’s lacrosse season amid allegations that a white player used a racial slur against a black athlete from another school.

Per Philly.com –

The incident occurred May 1 during a girls’ track meet at Haddonfield involving teams from Sterling High School in Somerdale, Haddon Heights High School, and Haddonfield, according to Lloyd D. Henderson, president of the Camden County East Branch of the NAACP.

The black athlete, from Sterling, was on the track when five to seven white Haddonfield boys’ lacrosse players walked by her, said Cydney Thomas, a Haddon Heights track team member who is black. One told the Sterling athlete “to move, ‘N-word,’” Thomas said.  The lacrosse team was practicing on a field surrounded by the track.

On Friday, superintendent David Lindenmuth, a black man, pulled the plug on the season with two games and playoffs remaining “after the school’s internal investigation could not identify the team member who made the racial slur,” according to the article. Officials had apparently set a deadline for somebody to come forward to identify the lacrosse player, but no one did.

A few more notes and pieces of information:

  • the girl reportedly had her head down and was stretching when the slur was voiced (she did not see faces)
  • the lacrosse players were wearing helmets (making it hard to identify them)
  • several other girls on the Sterling track team heard the slur and reported it to nearby coaches, including a Haddonfield lacrosse coach, who reportedly brushed it off
  • the internal HMHS investigation confirmed that the incident happened
  • all students, staff, coaches and sports teams will undergo diversity, sensitivity, and empathy training
  • Haddonfield has about 12,000 residents, 1.1% of whom are black

Those are the details pulled together by various outlets.

What we have is a no-win situation that resulted in some students attempting to organize a Monday walkout that never materialized. The entire lacrosse team was punished while the alleged racist faces no individual accountability for his actions. The young woman who was reportedly subjected to the abuse may or may not feel closure, though she’s the only one who can speak to that.

The reports explain that the group of lacrosse players who walked past the girl numbered in the “five to seven” range so we know that not everybody on the team was in the vicinity of the incident. I’d probably be VERY frustrated if I was a parent of one of the kids who was not involved. The blanket punishment costs my son the rest of the season while also insinuating that he’s complicit in covering up racism, which is unfair and borderline defamatory.

But if the five to seven kids who were there DID hear the slur and decided NOT to speak up, you could certainly say they’re all culpable and deserving of suspension. I’m not a fan of the “snitch, or else” approach, but how else do you proceed? If you don’t stamp out the behavior somehow, then it never goes away. I wouldn’t raise my kid to rat out his or her peers, but shielding prejudice ain’t exactly a better option.

That said, the result cannot be, “well, we couldn’t find the perpetrator, so you’re all going to jail.” There does need to be some semblance of due process, and in this case due process yielded no results. So the superintendent, who is in a very difficult position, decided to make the tough decision to go with blanket punishment instead of letting the whole thing dissipate.

I’m not sure what else Lindenmuth could have done. He’s either punishing innocent people or allowing this kid to slide with no consequences at all. He himself was in a lose/lose situation.

In an ideal world, you’d be able to pick out those 5-7 kids who were walking across the track, suspend that group, and let the players who were not there finish out the season. That wasn’t feasible.

So I don’t know if anybody really wins. The superintendent was stuck between a rock and a hard place, made a difficult choice, and was going to piss off somebody no matter what.

 

 

 

 

 

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