A St. Louis University baseball player referred to President Barack Obama as a “f-cking watermelon eating baboon” in a private group message with his teammates. Now, one year later, the club is being investigated, as team members failed to address or denounce their teammate’s behavior.
Instead of condemning the racist comments, a fellow player sent a screenshot of the conversation to a former team manager, who is African-American. That screenshot then prompted an official complaint to the school followed by an investigation. Students have called for the team to be barred from participating in postseason games.
The group chat occurred in May of 2015 while the team was on a trip to Washington, D.C. A conversation about grabbing something to eat quickly turned into a hate-mongering discussion about Blacks.
“The kfc in the White House?” one player joked. Another player chimed in with, “They got rivers of the grape kind there.”
Another played then asked if there was a “colored” running the country. His question was met with the response, “Unfortunately…it is.”
That message was followed up with, “F-cking watermelon eating baboon.”
The screenshot was sent to ex-team manager, Brendan Twomey, who is the roommate of the pitcher who took the screenshot. Twomey recently left his position with the team but says he isn’t surprised at all by the incident.
“I had an opportunity to be around these players and was able to see the culture that was present in the baseball organization,” he said. “I think him [the teammate] sending the screenshot to me was kind of a reassurance of, look at them, they’re back at it again.”
Unfortunately, a year passed before Twomey decided to expose the intolerant behavior of his former teammates. His girlfriend filed an official bias incident report with SLU on April 4, which included an unredacted version of the screenshot.
A censored version of the screenshot went public last week and prompted the incoming president of SLU’s Black Student Alliance, Jonathan Pulphus, to express his disdain on Facebook.
“What kind of value-driven campus is this where people think they can represent the university and spew this awful hatred?” Pulphus wrote.
The SLU campus newspaper, University News, reported that the investigation into the incident was closed April 7. Because the offensive comments occurred in a private group message and weren’t directed at any specific person, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Dr. Mona Hicks concluded the school could do nothing to punish the baseball players.
“If I were to directly state to you, ‘You suck because of all of your social identities that God gave you,’ that would be wrong. That would require some adjudication,” Hicks told University News. “We also need to respect laws. This was a private conversation, or at least the perception of private between in-group parties.”
In lieu of disciplinary action, members of the baseball team have been required to have meetings with university administrators to address the biased rhetoric and culture of the club, according to Dr. Jonathan Smith, SLU’s Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Community Engagement.
“Statements that are racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic are statements that absolutely do not reflect our values or our mission,” he told University Times.
Racial bias and tension isn’t a new issue at St. Louis University, however. The 2014 massive sit-in dubbed “Occupy SLU” prompted the university to make a conscious effort to improve diversity and increase the number of resources for Black students on campus. According to TheDemands.org, other requests made by students include the formation of a race, poverty and inequality steering committee and bi-weekly meetings with an inclusive group, including the president, to continue to advance SLU’s efforts to address inequality and poverty in the community.