Monument Valley parents, athletes outraged with alleged racial comments made by Utah referee
Players and parents of the Monument Valley girls basketball team are outraged by an incident during last week’s Utah state playoffs.
The four-day tournament was held at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield, Utah. During its second-round game on Mar. 2 with Wayne High School, a racial comment was allegedly directed at the Lady Cougar basketball team by one of the referees selected by the Utah High School Activities Association.
Following a foul, Monument Valley junior Nevaeh Wilson said a female referee told them to get on the free-throw line when the alleged comment was made.
“I overheard her say ‘dark-skin get on the line,’” Wilson said. “At first, I didn’t think of it as anything, and I just thought she was talking about our jersey colors.”
It wasn’t until after the game that Wilson and her teammates realized what the ref had said.
“We were all upset about that, and we didn’t like it,” she said.
Monument Valley player Shimequa Hudson said she was present when she heard the same comment. And while there were some players from Wayne within the vicinity, she’s not sure if they heard it all.
“We were sad that she had said that, but we had to play through it,” Hudson said.
Her mother, Phelia Gray, said the racial comments were uncalled for and really affected the team’s morale.
“I don’t know why the ref said that to our players,” Gray said. “We’re all the same, but our skins are just different. She didn’t need to say that to our girls.”
Toxified by rage
Gray said the incident was blown up on Facebook. As parents, they encouraged their kids to continue to play out the tournament for their school and the Navajo Nation.
“They were feeling really bad being called that,” she said. “They were feeling down, so we had to cheer them up.”
Laura Tallis, the mother of point guard Alyah Blackwater, said the ref’s behavior should not be tolerated.
“As a parent, I’m traumatized by it,” she said. “Making comments like that shouldn’t be made.”
“I was surprised because how can an adult say that to a player,” said Blackwater, who did not hear the racial slur. “We just felt belittled, like we didn’t belong there.”
Tallis said the incident was reported to the UHSAA, and she felt it was swept under the rug.
“It’s our girl’s word against theirs,” she said. “The people in Utah are so prejudiced, and they treat us bad.”
Jeff Cluff, the assistant director of the UHSAA, said they conducted a thorough investigation involving the principals, athletic directors, superintendents of both schools, and officials that worked the game.
“It’s a very serious allegation, and here at the UHSAA, we have a zero tolerance when it comes to racism and discrimination,” Cluff said. “There is no room for it, so we took it very seriously and interviewed a significant number of people and had numerous conversations with people that day. And I handled it in a way that we felt like we needed to and worked with the superintendent of San Juan on that issue.”
The UHSAA assistant director said the association found no evidence that the racial comment was made.
“That does not mean it didn’t occur, but what it does mean is we weren’t able to find it,” he said.
Cluff said they had closed the investigation, and no further action would take place.
“We felt like we have reached a point where there wasn’t anywhere else to gather more information,” he said. “We interviewed all the people that were around or could have been around the situation with the team members from Wayne, the coaches from Wayne, the officials who were on the floor, and the party from Monument Valley who they felt like they wanted us to interview.”
Before he started his investigation, Cluff acknowledged that he did apologize to the Monument Valley team.
“I’m the one at the association that deals with racial issues, and I’m being educated on them all the time,” he said. “As a privileged white man who grew up in an area where there is not a lot of racial diversity, I’m learning about different backgrounds.
“It’s been very enlightening for me and in the process, I apologized to those girls having to experience this and other forms of racism,” he added. “The conversation I had with them, I assured them that I would be thorough in my investigation in trying to find out what I could.
“At that time, I hadn’t interviewed the officials and the other team,” he said.
Cluff said the UHSAA would continue working with the Oljato, Utah, public school.
“Monument Valley is a valuable asset to the UHSAA, and we enjoy having them as part of one of our member schools,” he said. “Again, we don’t tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind. I wish we could find a way to substantiate it, but the whole situation is very difficult.”
Blackwater is hoping that changes will be made for future athletes that come from minority backgrounds.
“I would like for them to take into consideration that there are different races in the state,” she said. “We felt belittled, and it’s not fair to think of us like that because of our skin color.
“We felt discriminated (against), and it was hurtful,” she said.