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Football team skit goes wrong

Members of the Wheaton football team came under fire this past week due to a skit performed at a team-building event Sunday night. The skit, which included depictions of Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia, caused feelings of alienation amongst Wheaton’s community for its apparent racism and insensitivity towards the black population.
“The deeper problem is that this is just simply another manifestation of (racism) whether or not anyone intended it to be,” junior William Osborne Society president Izzy Smith said. “Intent does not matter at this point. What does matter are the outcomes.” The society is a gathering place for African-American students.
On Tuesday, President Ryken sent a campus-wide letter that included the following statement regarding race relations: “Wheaton College stands resolutely against racial insensitivity, including the use of symbols that convey hatred against African Americans and other ethnic minorities.”
The Sunday evening event was one of a series of offseason competitions in which returning players take part. The opening sequence of the night was a collection of skits, beginning with the one in question.
A scene in the action-comedy “Bad Boys II” provided inspiration for the skit. In the skit, team members appeared in Ku Klux Klan white robes and brandished Confederate flags.
From there the players emerged from under the robes and transitioned into a step dance routine followed by a huddle to pump up the team for the remainder of the evening. Junior safety Wes Canonier, who is African American, said that it was not the intention for the KKK scene to get the most attention.
“The step routine and the ending huddle were intended to be the focal point of the skit, not the parody at the beginning,” Canonier explained. “We did not fully consider the impact of acting out a scene from a movie containing racially insensitive images on the Wheaton College campus.”
On Sunday night, the William Osborne Society hosted an event where students could come and share the hurt and pain that they felt as a result of the incident. Smith urged everyone on campus to see this as “a great opportunity for learning.” Smith offered encouragement to all those who were affected. “A mistake was made, and there are simplistic solutions — we could just say ‘We’re sorry’ and punish a few people and move on, but I think a better course of action would be to give an opportunity for people to learn about issues that people may not be well-versed on.”
Smith went on to explain the implications of depicting the KKK in the context of humor or satire. “For people who don’t see that as a problem, try to step into the world of the person who does. It’s this plus everything else that constitutes the problem of racism: racism that is overt, racism that is covert, racism that is in the institution, racism that is in the people.
“Suspend all of your context: if you were to (do that and) just walk in and see the image, how would you make sense of it, for anyone that doesn’t have the facts? Imagine what kind of problem that creates for the people who don’t have the context. Just because you give it to them, it doesn’t take away the harm and the corrosive power of the message.”
Later Sunday evening, the backlash hit players after the event concluded.
“We have received criticism; we have had some tough conversations; and, we have apologized to people in person,” Canonier said.
The players said that the coaching staff issued penalties for the skit, but would not specify what those were. Head coach Mike Swider was out of town last weekend so assistants Josiah Sears and Jordan Langs were in charge of the event. The two included sent an apology to the campus via email.
“We failed the team and campus in our responsibility of ensuring that members of the football team were living up to the standard of moral behavior that is expected of us as Christians, campus leaders, and mentors of students on this campus,” the email read. “We recognize that the events that occurred are racially insensitive, regardless of the intent of the group leadership, and want to express our deep regret for allowing this to occur.”
The controversy adds to what was an unconventional and difficult week at Wheaton. Such impact was not lost on Canonier, who expressed regret alongside junior teammate Josh Aldrin in a campus-wide email sent on Sunday.
“We would never want to hurt our fellow students, especially in a week like the one we just had here on campus,” Canonier says.
Sophomore Ade Davis expressed some of the feelings that he and other students had in reaction to the event. “These symbols and imagery bring deep pain to many people,” Davis said. “Especially those who may have had family members who were targeted by the KKK. I think that it brings unimaginable sadness to those individuals to see such imagery used as satirical humor. So while it may be funny at the time, it can cause real pain for others.”
Smith stressed that he does not believe that the football players are like the members of the KKK. “I think that there needs to be some educating at all levels. We need to not just be punitive but restorative.”

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