Hardee-McGee Field, where the March 15 men’s lacrosse game was held. Courtesy of sewaneetigers.com
By Maggie Lorenzon
On Saturday, March 13, approximately 120 spectators were removed from the sidelines of the Men’s Lacrosse game against Emmanuel College after certain Sewanee students made disturbing, racist, and bigoted remarks and harassing statements towards players of the away team that were heard by officials.
All students were notified of this event the next night by Vice-Chancellor Reuben Brigety, who wrote, “To our great dismay, a few of the Sewanee students hurled the most vile racial epithets (to include the “N-word” and other appalling epithets directed at people of color) toward members of the visiting Emmanuel team, whose roster includes white, African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latino men.”
Spectators were asked to leave five minutes into the third quarter, after racial epithets became loud enough to be heard across the field. “One official said he heard a thing or two during the first half, but the majority of the remarks were heard in the third quarter,” Sewanee Athletic Director Mark Webb said. Parents of the visiting players could reportedly hear the slurs as well as they live-streamed the match, prompting several to email officials at the University.
All students were cleared from the event, but none were immediately identified by officials as the perpetrators. Only players, coaches, and game staff remained for the fourth quarter.
Webb explained, “We had a very sizable group of students come to the match. They were up and lined down the fence. I was told we had to clear the field during the second half because of racial slurs that were thrown by one, two, or three students who were in the section by the scoreboard. I sent a text to Student Life and the vice-chancellor, who then asked to apologize.”
Immediately after students were removed, Brigety was informed by Webb of the event, and he, along with Webb and Nick DiBernardo, Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach apologized to the Emmanuel team and coaches. Webb then notified the SAA conference of the events and began formulating further steps within the Athletic Department to prevent similar occurrences at athletic events.
DiBernardo said, “Several of our players apologized to their players, which is gratifying to hear.”
Webb said that Emmanuel coaches and team members, “responded with dignity and grace. They were certainly and rightfully disappointed with the fans, however.”
“Indignation is a light word for how I would feel if I were an Emmanuel player in this moment. We in athletics have a lot of clean up to do,” Webb remarked.
In response to a question of what immediate action was taken, Webb said: “We had game management, but in the bleachers. We changed it the next day and put them on the field to immediately deal with it. We sent apologies to Emmanuel and have corrected our placement of officials during events to ensure this never happens again.”
He continued, “We also need multiple security officers when we have a big crowd who can monitor a little more closely. We’ll keep that in place for the remainder of the spring and will reevaluate in the fall,” Webb continued.
Brigety’s statement also announced that Webb will also meet with student and student-athlete groups to reassert the values of the University and ensure that all students understand the “unequivocal commitment to treating everyone, including athletics competitors, respectfully.”
After apologizing to the Emmanuel team, Webb returned to watch the film of the game, where he noticed he “could definitely hear it [racial slurs] on the video.”
Alcohol is prohibited at sporting events, and University officials do not know if those involved were also intoxicated. Webb reported that a police officer on duty at the lacrosse game confiscated beer from two other students.
No students were identified by game officials or security officers during the game. While some have speculated that contact tracing could be used to identify those involved in the incident, Webb said that the University does not have a record of all who were in attendance.
Webb also said that the video Sewanee used to stream the match has made it more difficult to identify the perpetrators. “The video shoots over the fence, but you can’t view the fans. We have identified a few people who were in the area at certain points in the game, and they will be reached out to.” He asked that if anyone has any information, that it be sent to Chip Schane, the Director for Public Safety and Emergency Services, immediately.
Webb speculated that, based on the video, the students yelling racial slurs included two female students and one male student.
Due to the difficulty posed by the evidence at the University’s disposal, Webb and Brigety have emphasized that students must report any information that they know about those involved in the racist incident. “Students are going to have to take the lead on this,” Webb said.
At 10:30 a.m. the morning after Brigety’s statement was released, students gathered on the quad in protest. Participants laid signs on the quad in front of Walsh-Ellett hall, which hosts Brigety’s office, and then laid their gowns down in protest in Convocation Hall.
Webb said that he is unsure of what the consequences will be, but that perpetrators in similar racist events were required to apologize publicly. Brigety has emphasized that students must come forward and take accountability to open the possibility of restorative justice, but has not outlined what the University’s specific response will be.
“It’s a sordid situation,” Webb said, “and I’m incredulous that it could happen at any event here. We need to have our awareness raised to prevent anything like this from happening in the future.”
“We want students to come to these competitions. But these people need to be found,” Webb concluded.
Student athletes have planned a march against racism at the EQB Monument on Wednesday, March 17 at 1 p.m.