Last night we learned the STEM PREP boys & girls basketball teams left their games against Smyrna High after a referee allegedly used the “N Word” towards one of the female players.
The student was not the only one who heard it. Her grandmother did too, and she promptly recorded herself on Facebook reacting emotionally to the racist referee’s actions:
WATCH: “The REF called my granddaughter a ‘LITTLE NIG*ER’… PREJUDICE IS ALIVE AND WELL IN SMYRNA, TENNESSEE.” @STEMPREP boys & girls hoops teams WALKED OUT of games against @smyrnaathletics @SmyrnaBball due to a racist @tssaa ref. 🏀 😳
— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) November 18, 2021
We called TSSAA, the organization responsible for staffing high school games with officials throughout Tennessee. They’re based in Hermitage.
Gene Menees, Assistant Executive Director, called us back. This is how our conversation went.
HOLLER: Can you shine any light on what happened? Will the ref still be reffing games? Does the TSSAA have a statement?
MENEES: We’re investigating.
HOLLER: Ok. And if the ref did use the N word towards a player, what would the outcome potentially be?
MENEES: We’re looking into it and we’re investigating.
HOLLER: Theoretically, would you still allow them to referee games?
MENEES: I can’t answer that question because it’s an allegation. We’re investigating into the allegation.
HOLLER: I understand, but it seems like people would be interested to know what the TSSAA’s policy is towards a ref using that word in general.
MENEES: Well, let’s reverse it. We will deal with an official obviously if the official used a racial slur. Just as an administration of a school, I would assume, would deal with it if a player used a racial slur directed towards an opponent. Or fans used a racial slur directed towards a player. So if an official used a racial slur, we would certainly deal with that official.
HOLLER: In what way would you deal with them?
MENEES: We would deal with them. We’re investigating.
HOLLER: Right, but would you suspend them? Fire them?
MENEES: We would look into it. We would talk. We would meet and make a decision.
HOLLER: So it’s not a zero tolerance policy?
MENEES: I didn’t say that. I said we would look into it, and if it was verified we would deal with the official and take care of the situation.
HOLLER: What does that mean? Is there a world where a ref can use the N Word towards a player and still ref games for TSSAA?
MENEES: I didn’t say that. You said it.
HOLLER: I’m asking.
MENEES: I’m gonna be honest with you – we’ve never dealt with this before. We’ve had allegations before, but the allegations have never been confirmed… we’re not an organization that’s going to tolerate racial slurs. So if it’s confirmed we would deal with it.
HOLLER: And what’s the process for confirming? Are you talking to the refs? Players? Fans? Who are you talking to?
MENEES: We’re an association of schools. I’ve been in touch with STEM Academy, Smyrna, and the officials.
HOLLER: And when you make your decision, do you have a sense of a time frame?
MENEES: We’ll look into it, get the reports in, we’ll talk to STEM. There were other situations that occurred in the game as well. So we’ve gotta work through all that. This is is one of the things involved in that game that we’re working through?
HOLLER: What other things were involved?
MENEES: We had 2 players ejected. We had a fan that came on the floor. We’ve got policies in place for that as well. We’ve gotta deal with the entire situation that occurred at Smyrna. The racial slur is one of the things we’ve got to deal with, obviously. But it’s not the only thing.
HOLLER: Have you had any issues with that referee in the past?
MENEES: What referee?
HOLLER: The one that allegedly used the racial slur?
MENEES: Who allegedly said it? I’ve never been given a name? Which name do you have?
HOLLER: How are you investigating if you don’t even know who we’re talking about.
MENEES: I’ve not been given a name. Nobody has given me a name of the official who allegedly made the racial slur.
HOLLER: Do you know who was assigned to that game?
MENEES: There was a crew of officials.
HOLLER: There were 3. How would you go about figuring out which ref it was?
At this point Menees goes on telling us a story about when he was a high school football player in Kingsport and got ejected for using profanity, but says there was no tape with audio to prove it.
HOLLER: So because there may not be video of this happening, it might end up being just what people heard vs. what the ref says happened, what happens in that scenario?
MENEES: That’s what we’re investigating. We’re looking into it. And once we get the reports in we’ll take a look at it and make a decision.
HOLLER: You said you talked to STEM and Smyrna. Is there a crew chief?
MENEES: There’s always an R on the game.
HOLLER: Well I guess figuring out who the ref is would be the first step, right?
MENEES: We’ll talk to the officials, talk to STEM, talk to Smyrna… let’s be fair. It’s an allegation. Right? Let’s be fair.
HOLLER: It’s allegation, but multiple people have told us they heard it.
MENEES: I understand. But momentarily, let’s be fair. Multiple people didn’t hear it.
HOLLER: They did. I’m happy to send you a video. We have a video of a grandmother who heard it. It was her granddaughter that was called it.
MENEES: We’ll hear the racial slur on the video? That’s what you’re saying?
HOLLER: No. You’ll hear a grandmother saying she was right there and heard it.
MENEES: The video will prove someone said it, correct?
HOLLER: No. The video will prove more than one person heard it. And so I guess at that point what you’re saying is unless a racial slur gets caught on camera…
MENEES: No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t say it didn’t happen… If we get a video… I’ll go back to the football example…
Here he goes back to the story getting thrown out for profanity and there not being video of it to prove it, and a coach denying it.
We then asked him what a time frame would be for making their decision, and he told us schools and people are busy and wouldn’t commit to anything specific.
The thing to remember here is both teams forfeited, so clearly the teams were convinced that this happened. But Menees certainly gave the impression that without video of the incident this could potentially get treated as nothing more than an allegation.
We’d also add that this tweet by Smyrna basketball mentioning the forfeit without explaining the context seemed highly inappropriate, and appears to have been deleted.
Here’s hoping TSSAA does the right thing. Their contact info, should you feel like hollering at them: 615-889-6740 [email protected]
And as always, film everything.
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