No Excuse for Buffalo-Area High School Girls Basketball Team That Used N-Word In Pregame Chant


Certain stories require that we wait before passing judgment.

Getting more details on Ryan Braun's positive performance-enhancing drug test would be nice before we condemn the 2011 National League MVP, wouldn't it? Even Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of sexually abusing numerous young boys, is innocent until proven guilty.

Others are much easier to get a handle on. Further details aren't really necessary to know that what reportedly went on before girls basketball games at Kenmore East High School outside Buffalo, N.Y., was unforgiveable, and it was about time somebody did something to stop it.

Tyra Batts, 15, the lone African-American player for Ken East, was appalled when her teammates chanted "One, two, three [N-word]!" prior to the team's season opener last week. Batts, a sophomore, immediately told her teammates not to use the word, but she was outnumbered.

"They said it's a tradition," Batts told The Buffalo News. "They do it every year."

The school responded swiftly, issuing both school and game suspensions, canceling a field trip to St. Bonaventure and requiring student-athletes to engage in cultural sensitively training. Batts was suspended from school for five days herself after getting into a fight with another player over the racial slurs at the school the next day, and it should be noted that her parents said the punishment was fair.

"The minute an adult knew, we started our inquiry and investigation," Kenmore superintendent Mark Mondanaro told the newspaper.

That's fine, but it's one thing to react when an altercation over racial insensitivity occurs and another thing to be proactive and avoid such conflicts in the first place. According to the News, head coach Kristy Bondgren heard comments from other players about Tyra being black — which reportedly included references to slavery, shackles and picking cotton — but does not appear to have tried to stop the behavior. Even if the players weren't outwardly racist in front of Bondgren, it's difficult to think of any situation in which a single black girl wouldn't feel threatened by a dozen white girls joking about the color of her skin.

The most heartbreaking aspect might be that only two members of the team have apologized, according to Batts. All teenagers make bad decisions. How they respond to those decisions determines whether they will become good people or bad people. Do they admit they were cruel, beg forgiveness and try to learn why what they did was so wrong? Or do they stubbornly act like they know it all, hide behind a "tradition" and make the victim feel like it's her fault all of this has happened?

"You know we're not racist, Tyra," Batts' teammates reportedly told her. "It's just a word, not a label."

It's an interesting take that sounds like it was taken straight from one of those boring public service videos we all dozed through in school. Whatever "it's not a label" is supposed to mean, the phrase would seem right at home alongside a cardboard sign that says "No put downs" or "No hatin'" pegged to the board at the front of the classroom.

It's also entirely wrong. Read a book. The N-word symbolizes the control one race tried to exert over another for the majority of the United States' early history. It is most definitely a "word," and a loaded word at that. Those are all the details we really need.

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