Center Grove Community School Corp. is investigating an incident in which a Center Grove High School football player allegedly posted photos on social media in blackface depicting one of Westfield High School’s football players, senior defensive end Popeye Williams.
Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used predominantly by performers of non-African descent to portray a caricature of a Black person in a mocking manner, according to Merriam-Webster.
Bo Williams, Popeye Williams’ father, shared an image of the Center Grove student with blackface and posted the following statement on Facebook on Nov. 29.
“This first picture was taken some time after the 6A championship game on Saturday night. While I hope this isn’t behavior that Center Grove represents, this was unfortunately done on a bus where there should have been adult supervision. I have a few friends who I respect highly and their children play for the football program. They were NOT happy! The second picture is one my son (Popeye Williams) responding to the nonsense. He was informed by some of the CG players that the player in the picture was mocking him.
“My hope is that something is done and that this ridiculous behavior is disciplined to the highest level. We know it won’t stop, but the powers at hand need to show that it is NOT TOLERATED.”
Bo Williams also included a screenshot of a statement from Popeye Williams made on Popeye Williams’ Instagram page, @thepopeyewilliams.
“It was a hell of a game from both teams and I LOVE games like those (because) iron sharpens iron,” part of the statement from Popeye Williams read. “I want nothing but the best for those players and for them to be successful in life.”
Popeye Williams ended the statement with a #spreadlovenothate hashtag.
WWS released a statement about the viral photos Nov. 30.
“The Westfield Washington Schools administration wants its community to know that it stands with Popeye Williams, his family, our families of color, and anyone else impacted by the black face photos,” the statement read.
The photos were posted following the Nov. 27 Class 6A state championship football game, which Center Grove won, 27-21.
“It is unfortunate that the recent media coverage has nothing to do with the great football that was played on the field,” WWS Supt. Paul Kaiser stated. “Instead, the lasting image is of a player in black face, mocking a Westfield community member. We’ve been in constant contact with Popeye, his family and other people who may have been impacted to support in any way they need. We want all Westfield families who may have been impacted by that act of racial bias to know that we stand with you and support you as well.”
Westfield High School Principal Alicia Denniston denounced the incident in a statement.
“While we know that people make mistakes, we hope we can all use this opportunity to learn from our actions,” Denniston stated. “WHS remains committed to standing up against racial discrimination, supporting our students of color and promoting diversity and inclusion efforts in our school and community.”
WWS’ statement said it “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.”
Center Grove High School released a statement to parents from Principal Jeff Henderson.
“As you may be aware, photos circulating on social media are overshadowing the hard work put forth by both Center Grove’s and Westfield’s football programs in Saturday night’s state championship. This incident is disappointing and hurtful and does not represent the sportsmanship or values that our team, school and community stand for,” the statement read. “On behalf of Center Grove High School and our Athletic Program, I apologize for this behavior. We expect better and will work hard to ensure that this type of incident never happens again.”
In his statement, Henderson said he spoke with Denniston to assure her that Center Grove will not tolerate racism or harassment.
“We follow our student handbook as we investigate allegations and issue discipline accordingly,” Henderson stated.
Henderson also stated student discipline information is protected record and cannot be released to the public.
The names of the players participating in the blackface were not released. The statement from WWS said nobody would be made available for further interviews.