Slurs Directed at HS Football Players Investigated

Andy Berg Headshot

Ann Arbor Public Schools is investigating alleged racial taunts against Pioneer High junior varsity football players after a game against rivals Bedford High last week.

The incident prompted Pioneer’s varsity squad to cancel its Friday night game against Beford.

"Our role is to place our young people in places where they are safe and where they can thrive and grow, and that didn’t take place," coach Jimmy Williams told The Detroit News on Friday. "I won't be a part of that. That’s not who I am. And I will never allow my players to be subjected to that." 

Williams said his JV players told their coach, Steve Simpson, that multiple Pioneer players were called the n-word during the Thursday game. Simpson reported the problem to referees but said the incident wasn’t managed.

Williams said the experience was “devastating” for the JV squad, which has a number of black players.

"No player should be subjected to being called (the n-word)," he said.

In a statement Friday night, Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent Jeanice Swift said her team "has engaged with the Bedford team in a follow-up investigation, to confirm the facts of what occurred, and to determine appropriate follow-up steps to address this matter. At this current time, these investigative and follow-up steps remain in process.

"In the Ann Arbor Public Schools, we take seriously all situations involving harm to our students, and we are committed to address all situations of racism that may arise, without fear. While we understand the consequences of not playing this game as they relate to enjoyment of a September evening of football and wins and losses, we fully and unequivocally support the position of our coach to demand a full accounting of the incident from Thursday night and to take action to avoid placing our AAPS athletes in a position to potentially be treated in the same manner."

Bedford Public Schools superintendent Carl Shultz said in a statement that an investigation into the matter was launched immediately.

"[The Bedford High athletic director] “spoke with game officials after the contest and was told that the alleged incident was not heard by the officiating team and that it was reported to them by the Pioneer coaching staff," Schultz said. "It is our hope that we can work with Ann Arbor Pioneer Administration to complete a comprehensive investigation using factual information to develop a full understanding of any alleged inappropriate behaviors."

Williams said he hopes the situation leads to positive change.

"The whole hope is that the behavior is corrected and an atmosphere and environment is established where young men can compete and have an enjoyable experience and be successful," he said. "I've been teaching my guys about character and about (late congressman and civil rights activist) John Lewis: When you see something, say something."

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