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Can a school be punished for the racist behavior of fans?

Accusations of racist taunts at a high school basketball game were the topic of a hearing involving the UHSAA. Photo: Getty Images

A dispute between two Utah high schools over the alleged behavior of a racist fan is raising big questions about whether schools can and should step in to correct the behavior of adult fans.

Racist taunts on the basketball court

After allegations of racist taunts during a pair of high school basketball games this year, Intermountain Christian School in Murray recently filed a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) against Tabiona High School in Duchesne County, saying they won’t play games against Tabiona.

During a boys basketball game on Jan. 18 at Intermountain, an elderly fan who is related to a Tabiona player allegedly yelled, “Blackie, go home” at Intermountain head coach Tim Drisdom, who is black.

While the coach didn’t hear the slur, some Intermountain fans did and when confronted, witnesses reported the elderly fan responded, “Well, he is a Negro, isn’t he?”

Two Tabiona fans were ejected from the game — one of whom alleged that Drisdom threatened his son, who is a Tabiona player, after the game, which Drisdom denied.

During a rematch at Tabiona on Feb. 15, the fan who was accused of yelling racist slurs at the first game was back in attendance. Intermountain’s coach and principal apparently asked Tabiona’s principal to have the fan removed, or at the least, moved behind the Tabiona bench. Apparently, neither of those happened.

There were additional accusations and recriminations by both sides.

What is the school’s role?

On the JayMac News Show Tuesday, guest hosts Amy Donaldson and Todd Fooks said this incident does raise questions to ponder:

Should a school be punished for the behavior of one of its fans?

Does the school have the power to eject an adult fan?

Is the level of taunting limited because the players are kids — not adults who are professionals, paid very generously and should be able to deal with verbal attackers.

Hecklers should back off when the game is between children, right?

Of course, the gymnasium is a public building and taxpayers funded its construction, so is aggressive heckling really freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution?

What happens next

Intermountain Christian School contends that the taunting Tabiona fan was being disruptive, and because that was against school policy, he should have been ejected. But he wasn’t ejected, and that’s the reason Intermountain filed its complaint with UHSAA.

Greg Skordas, former chief deputy Salt Lake County Attorney, added that even though hate speech is protected, schools can take steps to limit the possible threat it poses, by restricting racist fans to the parking lot and barring him from the school gym.

A meeting is scheduled for May 20 between a panel of principals from the UHSAA executive committee to try to resolve the dispute between the schools.

Jay Mcfarland hosts the JayMac News Show, weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on KSL Newsradio, as well as the fictional podcast, Hosts of Eden. KSL Newsradio is part of Bonneville Media and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Don’t forget to review and subscribe to the JayMac News Show podcast on Apple Podcasts. Or follow Jay on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.