Districts address racial remarks at Union-Fruitport game

Grand Rapids
union high school football new jerseys

Union High School football players pose after receiving new jerseys. (Sept. 19, 2019)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The leaders of Grand Rapids Public Schools and Fruitport Community Schools say they will be closely monitoring future matchups after football players reported racially-insensitive comments during the game between Union and Fruitport high schools.

The investigation began after the father of a Union High School football player vented about the Sept. 20 game on Facebook. In his post, Rodney McFall wrote the Fruitport players were, “saying our kids should go back to the plantation where they came from.”

McFall said the team tolerated the comments for a while before “they started responding” and the game got very physical.

“There was a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of fights on,” McFall told News 8. “It got so bad that at the end of the fourth quarter, they ended up pulling the kids off the field and they let the clock run out — game over.”

In a joint statement released Wednesday, both Grand Rapids and Fruitport schools said multiple Union High players and one Fruitport player reported “being exposed to disrespectful, inappropriate, and insensitive comments.”

The districts said leaders for both teams are scheduled to meet to discuss the game and how to prevent similar incidents and “will be using this situation as a learning opportunity regarding respect, sportsmanship, and expectations on and off the field.”

McFall said game officials were repeatedly alerted to the issues and did nothing. In Wednesday’s statement, the districts said they have “been in communication with the OK Conference leadership to discuss this game and review what processes should be in place moving forward.”

Full statement from GRPS spokesman John Helmholdt and Fruitport Community Schools Superintendent Bob Szymoniak:

“Grand Rapids Public Schools and Fruitport Community Schools conducted interviews with players and athletic staff to investigate the allegations of racially insensitive comments at the September 20, 2019, varsity football game. In written statements, multiple Union High football players reported being exposed to disrespectful, inappropriate, and insensitive comments. A Fruitport High School football player also reported being exposed to the same.

Both coaches have reinforced their high expectations for sportsmanship and intolerance of comments of this nature. They will be using this situation as a learning opportunity regarding respect, sportsmanship, and expectations on and off the field.

The athletic directors, coaches, team captains, and other team leaders of both teams are scheduled to meet to discuss the game and work together to prevent something like this in the future, not just for football, but for all athletic competitions.

We have also been in communication with the OK Conference leadership to discuss this game and review what processes should be in place moving forward.

We will be carefully monitoring future games and have instructed our players to immediately alert school and OK Conference officials to any inappropriate comments.”

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