Winooski School District
Response to Racist Violence at Athletic Events
This past weekend, at a Winooski High School (WHS) soccer game in Winooski, three players on the Enosburg Falls High School (EFHS) team and spectators used abhorrent, violent, racist language against our student-athletes. Reading these unacceptable words may cause you pain, and I feel it is necessary to share what our WHS student-athletes were faced with at their home field, which is supposed to be a safe environment. They were called the N-word, monkey, and terrorist. This is not the first time EFHS soccer players and spectators have racially abused WHS students.
This continued racial violence against Winooski student-athletes makes me sick to my stomach, boils my blood, and needs to stop. It dehumanizes and perpetuates a “lesser than” attitude toward our students who are some of the most talented, intelligent, and resilient human beings I have ever known. In Winooski, we are all tired of seeing our students targeted by this violence and we will continue to fight racism with them.
Let’s be clear, using racist language and slurs is violent and abusive. Calling a human being with black skin the N-word is an act of violence equal to if not greater than a physical punch because the racist language directed at one person can affect the individual, their family, and the greater community. The violence is internalized into the psyche and memory of the person abused by that language.
During last week’s game, WHS players reported not only being repeatedly racially abused but also being kicked and elbowed off the ball and out of view of the two referees. This resulted in a physically aggressive and unsafe playing environment for all the student-athletes. When the racial abuse by some EFHS players and unsportsmanlike physical conduct by both teams was reported to the referee it was ignored, which resulted in further aggressive and unsportsmanlike play by both teams.
WSD has communicated with Enosburg Falls High School officials and the Vermont Principals Association (VPA) that our athletes were racially abused by three of their players as well as spectators.
Unfortunately, this is an ongoing issue in Vermont High School Athletics. During a Winooski School District School Board meeting last summer, 2020 graduate Hussein Amuri spoke at school board meetings about being called racist slurs at soccer games throughout his high school experience. Other WHS students have also shared painful stories of frequent instances of overt racism that have occurred during high school athletics.
The Vermont Principals’ Association (VPA) is the governing body of Vermont school district athletics. Their High School Athletics Policy on Harassment and Commitment to Racial, Gender-Fair, and Disability Awareness states, “Preventing prejudice and discrimination begins with every individual”, but there are no adopted procedures to support this commitment to racial prejudice prevention.
Currently, the VPA does not have any mechanism in place for officials, coaches, players, or spectators to systemically report and investigate racial abuse, and/or determine consequences for violations.
I am calling on the VPA to implement robust antiracism training for all middle and high school sports officials and coaches, develop mandatory procedures to report racial abuse and violence, and partner with school districts to ensure thorough and fair investigations of any reports of racial abuse.
The problem of racial violence against student-athletes is not only Winooski’s to solve. I will continue to fight each day and address openly and fervently any report of racial abuse and violence. And there must be a state-wide, policy-level commitment with resources to condemn all racial abuse and violence.
To combat racism and inequity within our own district, the WSD School Board has approved six of the eight Winooski Students for Antiracism (WSA) demands and has launched an Antiracism Steering Committee (ARSC) to guide the work of the demands. Our district is committed to becoming an antiracist school district and has designated significant resources to this essential work. We call on all districts across the state to join us on the journey to providing a truly equitable and antiracist education for all students.
Sean McMannon, WSD Superintendent