An Oklahoma basketball announcer is under fire after he was was caught on a hot mic using the N-word to refer to members of a girls basketball team who kneeled during the national anthem at a game on Thursday.
When the girls basketball team from Norman High School kneeled as the “Star-Spangled Banner” played at the women’s 6A state playoff game against Midwest City High School in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the announcer used the slur not once, but twice. The announcer’s comments were captured by the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) Network’s online stream.
The announcer, Matt Rowan, reacted to the kneeling by saying, “They’re kneeling? F-cking n—ers. I hope Norman gets their ass kicked. F-ck them. I hope they lose.” About 30 seconds later, the announcer repeted the slur a second time.
The girls’ team had been kneeling regularly during the playing of the national anthem since mid-January.
According to the Norman transcript, Rowan apologized for his comments in a statement, saying, “During the Norman High School girls basketball game against Midwest City High School, I made inappropriate and racist comments believing that the microphone was off; however, let me state immediately that is no excuse, such comments should have never been uttered.”
He then went on to offer diabetes as an explanation for the comments.
“I will state that I suffer Type 1 Diabetes and during the game my sugar was spiking. While not excusing my remarks it is not unusual when my sugar spikes that I become disoriented and often say things that are not appropriate as well as hurtful,” Rowan said. “I do not believe that I would have made such horrible statements absent my sugar spiking.”
He specifically apologized to the Norman girl’s basketball team and their friends and families, and clarified that his friend, Scott Sapulpa, who was in the box at the time, shouldn’t be blamed for the incident.
“Scott Sapulpa was not the one that made these comments, it was me and me alone,” Rowan said.
Hulbert Public Schools Superintendent Jolyn Choate, said Sapulpa, a former coach, should have “stood up for the students and condemned the racist language from the other announcer and the hate and intolerance it represents.” No information about repercussions Sapulpa may face was given.
The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA), which had contracted the NFHS for the production of online streams, announced there would be no play-by-play crew for the remainder of the championship games.
The NFHS said it is “aggressively investigating” the incident and will terminate relationships with those involved.
Norman Public Schools and other members of the community have expressed their support for the kneeling team.
Superintendent Nick Migliorino said in a statement, “We fully support our students’ right to freedom of expression and our immediate focus is to support these girls and their coaches and families, particularly our Black students and coaching staff. It is tragic that the hard work and skill of this team is being overshadowed by the vile, malignant words of these individuals.”
Norman Mayor Breea Clark called for the OSSAA to take measurable action against racism in response to the incident, possibly by implementing implicit bias training for announcers present at Oklahoma high school sports events, The Oklahoman reported.
She spoke to a parent of one of the girls on the Norman team. “I asked, ‘How is your daughter doing?'” Clark said. “She said her response was, ‘This is why we kneel,’ because there’s a problem. These brave young women aren’t afraid to address it and call it out when they see it. They’re real heroes in this situation.”
After Norman High beat Midwest City High 53-40 to advance to the next round, both Norman’s players and those of Union High School kneeled for the anthem before their semifinal matchup. Norman High won that game as well, 53-50, to advance to the championship game.