It’s the photo seen ’round the nation: five Iowa students pictured sporting pointed white sheets reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan while posed next to a tiny burning cross. One boy waves the Confederate flag, while another brandishes a gun.
Creston/Orient-Macksburg High School quarterback Kylan Smallwood would be shocked to learn that the teens seen in the racist photo where some of the same teens he played with on the field. Smallwood, a Black star athlete in the small, predominately white community, said he never expected to see such hatred in his hometown and from faces so familiar.
“I would see that kind of stuff like Charlottesville and think that’s pretty messed up,” the junior footballer told The Des Moines Register. “I never thought that would happen to our small town. I don’t want to be playing with kids like that.”
The photo sparked widespread controversy after it was shared on social media Wednesday, Sept. 8, thrusting Creston into the already heated debate over race, white supremacy and the contested legacy of Confederate monuments. School football coach Brian Morrison has since kicked the five teens off the team, telling the paper that lawyers are now involved in the situation. The threat of legal action could lead to the students’ reinstatement on the football team, however.
“It’s one of those things that curdles your stomach,” Morrison said of the disturbing photo.
As for Smallwood, the teen said he hasn’t had the chance to ask his teammates why they posed for the picture in the first place.
“I thought these guys were my friends,” he said. “I’ve been to some of their houses before. I’ve talked to them.”
Smallwood added that he has never had any problems with racism while growing up in Crestmont, until now. Robert Smallwood, the teen’s dad, said he wasn’t all that surprised by the incident, having grown up in the South.
Along with the threat of litigation, some in the small Iowa community want to see the five students expelled altogether, not just kicked off the football team, The Des Moines Register reported. However, Smallwood’s mom, Danielle, who’s white, said she would prefer that the teens remain in school.
“I think they should have to go and look at all the high school kids that they have hurt,” she told the newspaper. “Whether they’re Black, white, whatever, they hurt a lot of people, and I think they should have to go back and face that.”
Despite the controversy, Smallwood and his parents said the incident has since brought everyone in the community together and noted how residents aren’t condoning the racism. The teen told The Des Moines register that he and his 68 remaining teammates are using the photo “as a way to bring us together as a family more.”
“I know now that these guys have my back, no matter what,” he said. “That’s helped me a lot.”