Editor’s Note: This article reports on the use of slurs and other offensive language. ELi has either used asterisks or described the offensive terms rather than reproducing them verbatim. Videos may contain offensive language, as noted in captions. In this reporting, ELi is keeping players anonymous who fear repercussions for speaking about the incidents.
Before and during the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) football district championship game between East Lansing and South Lyon high schools on Nov. 5, players and fans of South Lyon directed obscenities and racial slurs at various East Lansing players and the ELHS team at large, according to multiple players and parents who were at the game.
While the national anthem was played prior to the start of the game at South Lyon last Friday evening, the East Lansing players took a knee as a team — something the team has been doing since the beginning of the 2020 season.
As the anthem played, someone in the South Lyon section of the crowd yelled “Stand up, you p******,” ELi confirmed with East Lansing Athletic Director Nikki Norris.
The incident was captured on video, included below.
ELi spoke to multiple ELHS football players who said that, from the field, they heard the person yell and what they had yelled.
“We could hear it as clear as day,” Ethan DeWitt, a lineman who is white, told ELi. “It was — you felt like it echoed around the field and definitely brought a lot of rage and emotion to all the players that kneeled.”
Two players with whom ELi spoke, both of whom are white (including DeWitt), detailed the repeated use of racial slurs, epithets, and insults by South Lyon players and how slurs were directed at both Black and white East Lansing players.
Those same players confirmed that they heard the N-word said to their Black teammates, and they themselves were called “[N-word] lovers” and “race traitors.”
One of their Black teammates was told to “go back to Africa” by an opposing South Lyon player, they said.
“[W]e hear things that are said to them during the game,” an anonymous East Lansing player said of comments directed to his non-white teammates.
He elaborated: “Like, ‘Oh, if you guys didn’t stand, you shouldn’t be here.’ You know, a lot of things like that.”
Along with being subjected to race-based abuse, two East Lansing players were, in separate incidents, apparently punched or kicked in the head after play had stopped.
These events are captured on the game film, copies of which both the South Lyon and East Lansing teams have. The game is currently blacked out on the digital streaming platform where it could be watched. This is a common practice for teams in the playoffs to prevent future opponents from watching it, according to Norris.
ELi has obtained a clip of the first such incident, in which junior offensive lineman Hayden Healey (wearing number 77) gets punched in the side of the helmet right after the play ends. The play occurred early in the first quarter of the game.
Players with whom ELi spoke said they felt that the referees did not do enough to control the situation or to stop it. In some instances, players said, the referees seemed dismissive.
When reached for comment, ELHS Athletic Director Norris referred to the obscenity that was yelled during the national anthem.
“I would be surprised if there was anyone in the stadium that did not hear it,” Norris wrote in her email response.
“I am in the process of talking with our players about their experiences during the game, and I have been in contact multiple times with the South Lyon Athletic Director since [Monday] morning when he let me know of the emails he had received about the game,” Norris continued.
When asked about the situation, ELPS Superintendent Dori Leyko told ELi on Monday that she was aware of the situation and that the results of Norris’ investigation would determine the district’s next steps in addressing the issue.
South Lyon High School Athletic Director Mike Teagan did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for the MHSAA said that that organization received a message from a parent on the matter, but that their role in such situations is to ensure the respective schools work together toward a resolution.
When the MHSAA reached out to the schools, they were already in contact with each other, the spokesperson said.
Along with the players, multiple parents corroborated what happened, albeit secondhand. ELi was originally made aware of the story via a parent of one player sending in a tip.
According to that tipster, along with another parent ELi spoke to, the South Lyon student section started chanting “Let’s go Brandon!” which has become a euphemism to deride President Joe Biden.
We’re withholding the name of this parent because she said her sons, who play on the team, were worried about potential repercussions of their names being attached, even tangentially.
This parent, who is a Black woman, said she heard the person yell during the anthem. By the time the game was over, she was mostly concerned about exiting the stadium and getting to her car safely, and concerned about her sons doing the same.
Friday’s ordeal is not the first time that kneeling during the anthem has drawn ire toward the Trojans football team. The week prior, during the district semifinal game against Milford High School, players said they heard some comments about it, though nothing that rose to the same level.
And the remarks aren’t exclusively from teams outside the area. Unprompted, the players and parents with whom ELi spoke all named Grand Ledge and DeWitt as places the Trojans have been on the receiving end of slights about their decision to kneel.
The players with whom ELi spoke also had another point to make: None of this will deter them or their program from standing up for what they think is right.
“When we kneeled and when they said that, they proved our point, right there and then,” an anonymous East Lansing player said.
“It just brings awareness to the situation,” DeWitt said. “And it shows that it’s not okay, that it’s not acceptable, and that there needs to be change going forward. And that’s why we kneel. That’s why we stand for what’s right. And I don’t think that as a team and as a program we’re going to stop just because of what someone said.”
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