An Indiana high school is investigating after a photo of one of its student-athletes wearing blackface went viral.
The student, a football player at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana, was accused of using blackface to mock a Black player for Westfield High School during the Class 6A state championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the Indy Star reported.
he photo shows the student wearing eye black, or a grease paint usually used under players’ eyes to deflect the glare of bright lights, all over his face, Fox 59 reported. The photo was posted online after Center Grove won the game, 27-21, on Saturday, Nov. 27 for its second consecutive state championship win over Westfield.
The player also drew fake tattoos on his arms, IndyStar reported.
Westfield’s Popeye Williams, an edge rusher committed to the University of Louisville, said the tattoo drawings are similar to his real tattoos, leading him to believe the student was specifically targeting him, WISH reported.
“To the kid that did that, you know, I wish you the best,” Williams told WISH. “I will forgive him for what he did and move on from it.”
Williams also told IndyStar that several players on Center Grove’s team had reached out to him to apologize. However, the student in blackface was not among them, WISH reported.
Center Grove first addressed the incident in a statement to the IndyStar, with Principal Jeffry Henderson saying, “CGHS administrators are aware of an inappropriate post on social media. “...This student’s actions do not represent the values of our athletic program, high school, or school community.”
In a second statement, Henderson called the behavior “disappointing and hurtful” and said that it was “overshadowing the hard work put forth by both Center Grove’s and Westfield’s football programs.”
“I have spoken with Westfield’s principal to assure her that Center Grove will not tolerate racism or harassment of any kind,” Henderson wrote. “We follow our student handbook as we investigate allegations and issue discipline accordingly.”
Blackface first became widely popular during the Civil War, when white theatrical performers would use the practice to portray Black characters in mocking and dehumanizing ways. The practice is now widely recognized as racist and as having contributed to the spread of offensive stereotypes about Black people, according to The History Channel.
Popeye’s father, Bo Williams Jr., told WFYI that he hopes the other student’s behavior is “disciplined to the highest level.”
Popeye had another message for other Black students.
“To my fellow Black brothers, just keep your head up,” Williams told WISH. “Live every day with a passion (and) thrive to be great.”
Westfield Washington Schools also addressed the incident in a statement, saying that the district “stands with Popeye Williams, his family, our families of color, and anyone else impacted by the blackface photos.”
“Everyone plays a part in bringing an end to racism and we can only accomplish that by working together,” Westfield Principal Alicia Denniston said in the statement. “We cannot let actions like this go unnoticed and we are confident that Center Grove High School will take appropriate action with regards to their investigation.”