City Desk

Final Fort Hill/Dunbar Fallout: You Can No Longer Use the ‘N-Word’ on the Gridiron in Maryland

At its regularly scheduled meeting next week, the board of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which runs high school sports in the state, will be presented with a revised code of conduct for all athletes under its jurisdiction.

The biggest addition to the code will be a clause prohibiting the use of any racially charged language during sporting events sanctioned by MPSSAA.

"There was no section on racial slurs before," says Shanetta Paskel, spokesperson for Maryland Attorney General's office. The AG's office worked with MPSSAA on the new wording.

The MPSSAA board's vote on the slurs clause will be the final official action related to the fiasco that was the Dunbar/Fort Hill high school football game held last September 19.

Dunbar coach Craig Jefferies pulled his team off the field with about four minutes left in the third quarter with his team leading 14-8, but with host Fort Hill on the verge of a go-ahead score. Referees had just flagged Dunbar with three consecutive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The first flag was thrown when a Dunbar player, arguing with one of his assistant coaches on the sideline, kicked his helmet onto the field right in front of a referee.

The second 15-yarder was a called after a very late hit by Dunbar on the very next play, again right in front of a referee. And the third came when Jefferies walked to the middle of the field to yell at the referees as they're marching off the late-hit penalty. "Highlights" of the debacle are available on youtube, and while there's no way to tell what was or was not said on the field from watching the clips, any objective observer would conclude that all three flags against Dunbar were justified.

But after getting flagged himself, Jefferies never goes back to the sideline or says anything to Fort Hill's coaches; he simply waves his team to follow him out of the stadium. The Dunbar players taunt the crowd on their way to the exit.

In the days after the game, which was declared a forfeit victory for Fort Hill, Jefferies said he walked out because Fort Hill players were calling Dunbar players "the N-word," and he feared the situation would get violent if the game continued.

Post-racial America was still months away. So the Dunbar coach's charges caused the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved. A mediation officer organized a meeting with officials from both schools and both school districts (Fort Hill is in Allegany County, Md.). Tim Johnson, the federal mediator from the DOJ's Community Relations Service (CRS) who organized the meeting, which included coaches, principals, athletic directors and district administrators, said he would be issuing a report on his findings following the summit.

Johnson's office, however, never produced any such report.

Johnson has since retired, and his replacement at CRS says the office is no longer involved in the Dunbar/Fort Hill matter.

Carl Snowden of the Office of Civil Rights of the Maryland Attorney General's Office also announced shortly after the Dunbar/Fort Hill game that his agency would be conducting its own investigation of what took place on the field.

The Office of Civil Rights, however, never did investigate or disclose why it dropped the investigation.

A source within the office says the investigation was scrapped after state officials determined that even the worst hate speech on a football field was protected by the First Amendment.

Under orders from DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee, McKinley Tech canceled a game with Fort Hill scheduled for a few weeks after the Dunbar debacle.

The lack of any third-party report leaves the charges against Fort Hill hanging.

Before and during the mediation session, Fort Hill coaches, players and administrators denied anybody with the school used racial slurs against Dunbar, and still deny ever using racial slurs against Dunbar.

"We talked to the game officials, the police, everybody we could," says Fort Hill principal Steve Lewis. "What we said is we can't find anything, anybody who heard anything. I'm not naive enough to say something couldn't have happened that somebody didn't hear, but there were five officials. It's a bad situation. Dunbar's got a good tradition, a strong program; we've got a good tradition, a strong program. Hopefully, we can put it behind us and learn from it."

Lewis says that he submitted all his findings to the Allegany County school superintendent's office after the mediation session, and that those were forwarded to Tim Johnson at the mediation meeting, as both school districts were supposed to do. Lewis says he was told Johnson would be issuing his report shortly after the meeting, but that the reason no report from DOJ about its findings was ever issued was because DCPS and "Dunbar never did submit their report."

A call to Rhee's office for comment on the Dunbar/Fort Hill matter was not returned by deadline.

Fort Hill went on to make it to the Maryland Class 1A championship last season. They were beaten, 20-19, after a last-second touchdown by Dunbar...of Baltimore.

There are a few legacies of the Dunbar/Fort Hill game: Fort Hill's 2009 football schedule, for one, includes no DC schools.

And, again, there's the hate-speech clause proposed for the MPSSAA's code of conduct. "We expect this revision will be adopted without opposition," says Paskel.

In other words, the Maryland Attorney General's office has determined that from now on, the First Amendment won't save you from getting a 15-yard penalty.

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  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Welcome to the 21st Century, Maryland - what took so long? A friend of mine from Howard played in a football game at Marshall U in WV - he says the fans there were the worst in the world. As the Howard team came on the field, the fans started shouting, kill the n******. & it went downhill from there.

    It's incredible that people are still so racist. In the old days, you might never see a black person, or an Asian person, or white person, whatever. But nowadays, people are mixed together, & that's true worldwide. Yet racism persists, usually most perniciously in the lower working classes. It's a strange phenomena.

  • Downtown rez

    For once, you and I are on the same page, AAG.
    Nice screed you wrote there.

  • DR

    great stuff Dave- way to shine some light on this concocted racial incident....if only Wilbon cared enough about the facts of this case- his article was disgraceful

  • Truth Hurts

    It's about time. We can't stop haters, racists, and bigots from spewing simple-minded idiocy, but penalyzing offending sports teams is spot on.

  • dcblackdaddy

    Make them learn from book-shots and not hook-shots to the head on the field. Name-calling is bad in sports and hope this new rule alleviates or at minimum decreases the ill-behavior.

  • DR

    Why don't the commenters understand that the N word was never used in all probability- this was another fraudulent hoax ie, Duke lacrosse to a much lesser extent... reading comprehension is pretty bad on this site.... waiting for a Wilbon apology

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    DR - where is your evidence? We have testimony from the team & people in the stands. A Maryland state commission found sufficient evidence to make rule changes.

    You're probably one of those sick people who believe Saddam had WMD - & you're probably a birther & a deather. Newsweek has an interesting article on mentally ill people like you.

    Lies of Mass Destruction
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/213625?from=rss

    Normally I'd just call you an ignorant lying racist, & an unreconstructed cracker, but since Teddy died, I'm trying to be nice today. You think, "reading comprehension is pretty bad on this site;" meanwhile, your writing leaves room for lots of improvement.

    See how nice I'm being?

  • Dave McKenna

    Angry Al: Far as I can tell, there is no evidence that racial slurs were used by Fort Hill players, beyond the original accusations. The rules change was pushed by the Civil Rights office of the Maryland Attorney General's office after backing off its announced intention to investigate the accusations. The school and the Allegany board tried to clear their kids, but it seems to me DCPS and Dunbar dropped the matter. I'd be interested to hear your take on the video clips, Angry Al.

  • Grumpy

    Without audio/visual evidence, how could the slurs be proven? And why didn't the coach pursue the matter? If my kids are being verbally assaulted, I'm calling every news outlet, etc. in town...I'm especially calling WOL's Mark Gray, host of SportsGroove and Coach Butch Mcadams, Joe Madison, Bernie McCain to get the word out.

    And 2 agencies dropped it citing 1st Amendment but failed to produce any reports? Not even a report stating it was dropping the case?

    I'd like to know the truth...what really happened?

  • Dave McKenna

    Grumpy: According to a report on Fox-5 around the time of the incident, Dunbar's coach Jefferies did agree to be interviewed about the Fort Hill slurs, but then backed out of the interview because Michelle Rhee told him not to comment.

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  • Angry Al Gonzales

    I watched the film - the hit was clearly late, & kicking the helmet was flagrant. Not sure about the rest of it, but as I recall, some of the Dunbar kids were quite upset by taunting & epithets. That is evidence enough to prove a case, but we'll never know. The comments on youtube said the taunts went both ways - or that no taunts were made.

    It is too bad there will probably be a decision as to what happened. It's one thing about having a trial - at least some resolution is reached.

    The rules change was a good move, even if nothing happened at FH. Taunting of any sort is bogus. There will always be some wrestling in pile-ups & twisting ankles & eye gouging & that sort of stuff, but the refs should be in firm control, especially since these are high school kids.

  • Grumpy

    @Dave

    So Rhee silenced him, huh? Aside from getting sued for slander, what other possible reason could she have for quashing his interview? I mean, if it really happened, why not expose it and deal with it directly?

    Something doesn't add up

  • DR

    Nice backpedal Angry Al- apology accepted, I guess. You really are Angry btw- great moniker. It's funny that you automatically impugn people's motives, lash out without facts and make irrelevant comparisons. Idiotic Angry Al may fit a tad better. Sorry about Teddy- hopefully he's with Mary Jo.

  • Duke84

    I played varsity baseball and soccer in suburban Pittsburgh, and never played against a black guy. So I guess I did a good job keeping the epithets under wraps. The only person I swore at was myself.

    BTW - when my HS did "To Kill a Mockingbird: as the school play, we had to bring in black kids from other schools - because we only had three (out of about 3000 kids), and one was too busy with classes to participate. Not a super-exclusive area, but obviously redlined.

  • GUILTY TIL PROVEN INNOCENT

    Last I checked this is America....where people are INNOCENT TIL PROVEN GUILTY. OOOOOOOOpppps, I just read the fine print. You are guilty til proven innocent if someone plays the RACE card against you. No proof has ever been proven by GOD Jefferies or any of the DC ding-dongs. To this day, NOTHING has ever been proven. But then again, since Jefferies threw out the RACE card........that must be enough proof. Someone, show me Jefferies' PROOF. Not his stupid opinion....PROOF !

  • PIGSKIN JUSTICE

    Glad this was dropped, no merit. Frustration reared it's ugly head. Now hopefully this rule applys to ALL, as it is accepted for a black person to use the "N" word in reference to another black person.

  • 2009 not 1959

    Kicking the helmet on the sidleines (sidelines key word)warning at most.
    Hit is not late was in the flow of the game and the refs whistle did not blow. The link had audio.
    The go ahead touchdown was given 30 yards on questionable (at best) calls. How many times have parents gone wild when games turn like that. The refs could not admit they let it go on that long, because they would have had a price to pay.
    Why did the player kick the helmet? Would he have started a fight at the next racial slur?
    Would Dave McKenna please stop saying this is unjustified?
    When they say they dropped the case but change the rules at the state level, is that not code for the refs let it go?
    I have been in games in manassass in the 80's when an integrated team beat the locals on the their home feild it gets nasty. Yeah they say things all time time. It gets when the referees help. Dave is saying this is not a problem, he must be a rush limbaugh fan.

  • Dave McKenna

    2009: "Would Dave McKenna please stop saying this is unjustified?""Yeah they say things all time time. It gets when the referees help. Dave is saying this is not a problem, he must be a rush limbaugh fan."

    what the hell are you talking about, 2009? i said what's "unjustified"? i said what's "not a problem"? i said all three personal fouls calls are justified. i just watched the video again. all three personal fouls calls are still justified, 2009. but, a year after the fort hill/dunbar game, those penalties aren't the issue. michelle rhee's conduct is the real issue, 2009. Michelle Rhee did not cooperate with the local, state or federal efforts to deal with whatever happened at Fort Hill. are you happy that Michelle Rhee disregarded the department of justice's mediation attempts, 2009? why didn't michelle rhee file a written report as requested by the department of justice? i asked her office that, and they won't answer. why won't michelle rhee answer any questions about her conduct in the dunbar/fort hill matter? to me, it looks like michelle rhee left the dunbar kids hanging out to dry. why did michelle rhee stonewall all the investigations, 2009? what kind of lesson does michelle rhee's stonewalling send to the dunbar kids?

    i'd be interested to hear your thoughts on michelle rhee's behavior in the dunbar/fort hill situation, 2009.

  • Dav eH.

    'Dunbar is nothing but a school full of douchebags! No one called anyone a nigger....Dunbar would have lost the game anyway.

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