ON THE SIDELINES: Racism has no place on the court

by Mar 1, 2017SPORTS di-ne-lv-di-yi0 comments





The other day, my cousin Charity put a post on her Facebook page discussing the poor officiating that she witnessed during a high school basketball playoff game in South Dakota.  Her son plays on the Takini Skyhawks, a team based on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, and they were playing the Newell Irrigators (real team name) who beat them 70-64.

Charity described some of the calls including a technical foul being called on the Takini player when the Newell player was the one who was at fault.  Racism is alive and well in South Dakota…and Arizona…and Oklahoma…and here in North Carolina.  The problem is that racist officiating is basically impossible to prove.

In my years of shooting games on the sidelines, I’ve personally witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of just poor calls.  I’ve written before about the tough job that officials have and the fact that I wouldn’t ever even attempt it, but for the ones that do, we expect accuracy and impartiality.

When I see bad calls…and, I mean really bad calls…I always think to myself if they are just poor officials or are they closet supporters of the other team?  Or, even worse, are they being racist towards the Cherokee players?  But, if they are, it’s impossible to prove unless they actually say so.  We can’t get in their heads so we don’t know what the thought processes are for sure…we can only speculate.

A few weeks ago, a radio personality for KCTR in Billings, Mont. named Paul Mushaben caused quite a stir over a blog post he made entitled “Indian Basketball” in which he stated that an “Indian team involved in a tournament left people re-thinking if it’s worth it or not to host a tourney”.

He went on to write, “The crowd (Indian crowd) is so unruly and disrespectful of the facility that it may be time for the MHSA (Montana High School Association) to proceed with an all Indian tourney.”

KCTR suspended Mushaben and released the following statement on Tuesday, Feb. 28, “KCTR does not support the blog or the sentiments expressed therein.  Once management became aware of the content, it was immediately removed from the station website and we have since taken action to suspend Mr. Mushaben indefinitely, pending further internal review.”

During the Holidays on the Hardwood Tournament here in Cherokee, a female fan for a team from Georgia was removed from the premises after getting into an altercation with several Cherokee fans.  The lady, along with several in her party, began making “woo-woo” sounds while patting their mouths.  They were asked to stop by several Cherokee fans, and the lady reportedly said, “We’re Indians too so we can do this.”

That didn’t set well.  Words were exchanged, and the lady ended up being removed by several Cherokee Indian Police officers.

The Pine Ridge (SD) Lady Thorpes won the 1989 Class A South Dakota State Basketball Championship.  The late SuAnne Big Crow grabbed a rebound and put it back up with seconds remaining to give Pine Ridge a 42-40 win over Millbank.

Big Crow, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is a legend in South Dakota, and the Boys and Girls Club on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is named after her.  During the 1989 season, she averaged 39 points as she led the Lady Thorpes to the championship, but more importantly, she helped them and many more overcome adversity and racism.

During a game at Lead, the Lady Thorpes were set to come out onto the court and the opposing fans were chanting and doing their own “woo-woo” sounds.  Big Crow led them onto the court, and she stopped at the center circle rather than keeping on running on around the court.

There, in the middle of the circle, she began fancy shawl dancing and singing a Lakota song.

The Lead fans went from jeering to cheering.

She not only helped the Lady Thorpes win that particular game, she helped everyone overcome racism in a positive way at least for that one moment.

Earlier, I spoke of the Takini Skyhawks.  In the Lakota language, Takini means “one who has been brought back” or simply “survivor”.

When fans and coaches encounter what is deemed as racism in the form of bad officiating or bad sportsmanship, I encourage them to follow the proper channels.  Turn in a formal protest of the event complete with game film to the state governing association.  Follow that to the letter and hope for the best.

When players encounter the same behavior, I encourage them to follow in the footsteps of SuAnne Big Crow.  Not everyone has to go to the center and dance…just simply rise above it, concentrate on what you’re doing, calm down, and put the ball in the hoop.  Don’t worry about racist chants or poor officiating…that’s for the fans and coaches and administrators to deal with.

All American Indian athletes are survivors.  No amount of chanting, racist actions, racist thoughts, or poor officiating can change that.