TSSAA: Inconclusive evidence that referee used racial slur during girls basketball game

·4 min read

A basketball referee who was alleged to have used a racial slur during a girls basketball game in mid-November will not face any disciplinary action by the TSSAA.

TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress wrote a letter to STEM Academy, which made the allegation, on Tuesday, citing inconclusive evidence of such an action occurring.

"Without corroboration we believe it would be unjust for us to take the action you have requested toward the game official or tarnish his reputation based on an accusation he adamantly denies," the letter concluded.

The alleged incident occurred during the second half of a Nov. 17 girls game at Smyrna, which did not continue. The boys game was not played afterward.

STEM Chief Executive Officer Kristin McGraner sent the TSSAA a letter the next day stating that a "white male referee approached the 14-year-old Black female player in an aggressive manner and called her (a racial slur)."

Heated game

The incident in question occurred in the second half after a foul was called on a STEM player. A Smyrna player then bumped the STEM player, who shoved back in retaliation. A technical foul was assessed on the STEM player.

That player and a teammate then began arguing with officials, which resulted in more technical fouls and ejections for both players. An adult then came out of the stands from behind the STEM bench and walked along the sideline in front of the scorer's table, saying something to the game officials. She was then escorted from the court.

As officials huddled at the scorer's table, the STEM team left the floor.

In Tuesday's letter to STEM, Childress explained the TSSAA's due process on the matter, which included interviewing all three game officials, the athletes involved, and also reviewing game film from the contest.

"Each official denied using any racial epithet and denied hearing anyone else use the 'N-word.'" the letter stated. "The player who made the accusation said the game official used the epithet 'under his breath.' After interviewing the player, we contacted the official she identified, and he again denied having used such a term.

"We watched a relevant portion of the game tape repeatedly with the volume turned up. We did not hear the N-word, and nothing about the game tape enabled us to confirm that it was said by anyone."

The TSSAA notified STEM the day after the game that a $500 fine would be levied for the coach electing to forfeit the game and remove the team from the court. Childress said those fines would remain, as well as the fact the two players ejected, by TSSAA bylaws, could not participate in the team’s next two contests.

'No place for such language'

Childress wrote that the TSSAA takes "seriously the accusation that a game official used a racial slur."

"We do not doubt that the STEM player sincerely believes she heard something inappropriate," the letter stated. "There is no place for such language in sports or our society. If TSSAA ever determines that such language has ever been used by anyone involved in TSSAA sports, we will make sure that individual never participates again in any fashion."

STEM Academy claimed in a letter following the game that it was “not the first incident of systematic racism within the TSSAA” and called for a review of “official screening and hiring practices, the code of conduct governing the behavior of all employees and contracted officials, and sustained Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training led by a qualified external party.”

McGraner initially sent that letter to the media despite it being addressed to Childress. Childress received the STEM letter from a member of the media and never received a copy from the school.

'I understand racism well'

Childress sent a second letter to STEM that addressed the school's allegation of systematic racism.

"I understand institutional racism quite well," wrote Childress, who added he grew up in Maury County, attended and played basketball at Belmont and then returned to Maury County as a coach, teacher and administrator. "In my lifetime I have seen institutional racism and have experienced it.

"But in my 26 years with TSSAA, first as an Assistant Executive Director and since 2009 as Executive Director, I have not observed any institutional or systematic racism on the staff of TSSAA or among the numerous school administrators who have served on the TSSAA Legislative Council and Board of Control.

"TSSAA is a small organization with just 18 full-time employees. If 'systematic racism' was present within TSSAA, I am quite sure I would know it. The fine people who make up the staff and leadership of TSSAA deserve better than to be publicly belittled through such accusations."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: TSSAA: Inconclusive evidence referee used racial slur at basketball game

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