After a coach complained that fans of the opposing team brought a "Trump 2020 Keep America Great!" banner to a high school basketball game, the superintendent is "reviewing this matter and collecting information" to determine what actions the school district might need to take.
In a story reported by the Star Tribune, a high school basketball game between Minneapolis Roosevelt High School and Jordan High School has triggered an investigation into what one coach is suggesting was a racially motivated display by fans of the home team and what school officials say may have been inappropriate political messaging.
The investigation was prompted by a Facebook post by Michael Walker, head basketball coach of Minneapolis Roosevelt, who posted a photograph taken during Tuesday night's game of four Jordan fans sitting in the front row of the bleachers with a "Trump 2020 Keep America Great!" banner draped over their legs. The Star Tribune notes that several of the surrounding student fans were wearing patriotic-themed clothes.
Walker suggested that the students' expression of support for the president had an underlying racial meaning.
"I coach a predominantly black inner city high school team," he wrote in the Facebook post. "We go out to a rural area in Jordan, MN and this is there. Please explain how and why this is appropriate at a high school basketball game?"
Walker, who the Tribune reports is the director of his district’s Office of Black Male Student Achievement, ended the post with a series of hashtags, including several that were racially themed, including: #blackandproud, #blackmen, #blackmenmatter, #blackexcellence, #blackboyjoy, #blackboysmatter, #blackboys, and #blackmentor.
The Tribune quotes Cretin-Derham Hall girls basketball coach Crystal Flint, who echoed Walker's concern about the pro-Trump message. "You got freedom of speech, but would that remotely be appropriate? No, it would not," she said. "Why is politics being represented at sports? Is there an intimidation factor?" she added. "I think it’s divisive in this racial climate that we have."
The Jordan School District superintendent, Matt Helgerson, has since responded to Walker's post in a statement Wednesday, saying the district "regret[s] that Roosevelt players and their coaching staff, fans and community were made to feel uncomfortable," and stressing that "it is always our intent to graciously host our opponents."
The district, he said, is "reviewing this matter and collecting information [and] working cooperatively with the Minneapolis School District and Roosevelt High School in our review and response to this event."
While Walker interpreted the pro-Trump flag as having an underlying racial meaning, one of the parents of the students said it was simply part of a "USA blackout" theme night.
"Bridget Kahn commented on the Roosevelt coach’s Facebook posting wrote that the flag belonged to her and was used by students as part of a long-planned USA blackout theme night," the Tribune reports. "Kahn told the Star Tribune later that her son and others took two of the flags with them to the game and 'left with them wrapped around them like capes.'"
"I didn’t see anything wrong with that," she added, saying the students were simply wearing patriotic colors and expressing support for the president. "They don’t have a racist bone in their body," she stressed.
She also added that she noticed the Roosevelt team remained in the locker room for the playing of the national anthem, which has reportedly been the practice of the team this season.
Minneapolis schools spokesman Dirk Tedmon said that the Jordan team was made aware of the Roosevelt team's practice of not coming out for the anthem, the Tribune reports. He also said that political advertising at games is against district policy.
Superintendent Helgerson underscored that the patriotic theme night was not officially sponsored by the school and said they were currently reviewing whether displaying a flag supporting the president violated any rules. "We’re in the process of reviewing all our policies as it relates to this particular situation," he said. "This is a new one for me."