When thinking about the incident involving the Detroit Denby High School football team and Almont High, there is a phrase that comes to mind.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Well, maybe you should go ask the individuals from Almont High. You know, the ones who spat on and hurled racial slurs at the Denby football team. After all, it was their actions that reinforced a painful truth. And that is even though the world is rapidly changing, racism isn’t going anywhere. Furthermore, it reminded us that black men (and women) will be subject to hearing the “N-word” hurled in their direction at any moment they decide to protest racism in America.
This happened when Denby players took a knee during the national anthem prior to their game vs. Almont. According to Denby head coach Deon Godfrey, his players were protesting racial profiling, police brutality, and social injustice in the inner city. And before they even decided on this form of protest, he had a conversation with his players.
“My kids understand why they were taking a knee”, said Godfrey. “It’s not just because that’s the hot thing [to do]. They actually understand, and we talked about that before I allowed them to take a knee.”
However, even having that conversation with his players wasn’t enough preparation for the vile bigotry that followed their 36-8 loss to Almont at Walled Lake Central.
Referees call the game off due to both teams being overly aggressive; stemming from a bevy of personal fouls. The Denby players have just lost their opportunity to play for a state title. Then one of their players gets into a physical altercation with a member of the Almont band. And to add insult to injury, Denby players can’t even exit the field peacefully without Almont spectators heckling them with racial slurs.
Even Denby’s student trainer was spat on and called a “monkey”.
He’s a 13-year old freshman.
Godfrey has since spoken to his players regarding the incident and he says that “we’re past it”. And that’s admirable. It speaks volumes to his character as a leader of young men; a position that he takes seriously. He noted that his kids understand that he “doesn’t play any games”. His goal is to get his young players out of the neighborhood(s) and into a college of their choosing. “Knowledge is power”, said Godfrey. “And when you get your education, no one can take that from you.”
And he’s right.
However, Almont spectators tried to take his players’ dignity and self-respect following that game. That’s not right one bit.
And the MHSAA (Michigan High School Athletics Association) has been radio silent, while Almont has yet to offer anything of substance regarding its’ involvement.
William Kalmar, superintendent of Almont Community Schools, published a statement in response to the postgame incident.
“We are investigating fully allegations that members of the Almont Raiders Marching Band taunted players from Denby High School while both groups attempted to exit the stadium after the game was called by officials,” the statement read. “At this time, we have no evidence of such behavior by members of our marching band, dance team, cheerleaders or student body. We are cooperating with the authorities in attempting to identify those spectators who may have aggravated the confrontation by taunting Denby players. There is no circumstance in which it is appropriate for an adult spectator to interject themselves into a high school event.”
That statement was nearly two weeks ago.
Since then Almont High has already gone on to play in their state championship game vs. Lansing Catholic (which they lost).
The question is should they have even been allowed to play? What if Denby spectators hurled racial insults and assaulted Almont’s team as they left the field? Do you think Denby would have played in the state championship?
Godfrey believes Denby would not have been able to advance if it were them. So do I.
And so should you. So what’s next?
That is a question that many in the Detroit community should raise. Because Almont High (and their spectators) were rewarded for their actions with the opportunity to play for a state championship, while Godfrey had to perform damage control with his players. And the fact that superintendent of Almont Community Schools deflected to acknowledge any wrongdoing from his school’s students or fans is embarrassing. It’s even more embarrassing that he has not issued at least a public apology to Denby players that might have been affected. There has been absolutely no accountability at all.
This is where the MHSAA can come in and make things right. There is no such thing as making Denby players “whole” from what they were subjected to, but an example can be made of Almont High (and their spectators) to prevent further altercations as such. They must ban Almont High’s participation in the football playoffs in their next eligible season for one year.
Placing a ban on Almont High from the football playoffs doesn’t end racism. Godfrey still has to deal with his players’ state of mind. “You never should have been left off your leash” was still said to a 13-year old boy. And a group of Denby players will forever carry the memory of that fateful Saturday, while those who started the fracas go unpunished. What a ban would do is serve as a reminder and give racist hecklers a reason to rethink. It would serve as notice that consequences do comes with the actions displayed.
It would most importantly drive home that there is no reward for racism.