Most of us have heard the unfortunate news about what happened between the Roosevelt High School and the Leffell School girls basketball teams, whereby there were claims that antisemitic comments were made during a recent game between the two teams. The accusations resulted in the Roosevelt High School coach being fired and the player that allegedly made the comment being dismissed. The fairness of this outcome has become a heated debate amongst several parties, including the Leffell School and the Yonkers NAACP, whereby the Yonkers NAACP claims that they reviewed the video of the game and observed no antisemitic comments from the Roosevelt team. In the end, more attention needs to be paid to the greater implications this conflict poses to the students and their perceptions of equity and fairness in the world.
The Yonkers Public Schools has called for a restorative justice circle between the Roosevelt team and the Leffell team before any future games are held. Restorative justice circles are a less punitive approach to conflict that focuses on building relationships through facilitated conversations between someone who has caused harm and the person or people who were harmed. It is important at this moment that all student voices are heard and valued and hurt and resentment do not get in the way of healing. It may be difficult for Roosevelt players to go into this circle without carrying this hurt and resentment, given one of their teammates was dismissed and their coach was fired. Many times, when restorative practices are utilized, it is in substitution for a harsher punishment; yet in this case a harsh punishment was already imposed, which will make the success of the restorative circle less likely.
In addition, The Leffell School is a private Jewish Day School located in Hartsdale, a suburban community, while Roosevelt High School is an urban high school with primarily Hispanic and African American students and 81% of the students being classified as low-income. When Roosevelt students are looking at the possible statements made, such as “Free Palestine”, and see the punishment of taking away their peer’s opportunity to play the sport they love or their chance at a college scholarship, most will feel the situation is unfair. Many students will look at the vast difference in the socioeconomic status between their friends at Roosevelt and the students at Leffell and gain a larger perception of the inequities that exists in the world around race and class and feel powerless to change those circumstances.
There is a real and pressing conflict happening in the world that mirrors what happened between the Leffell team and the Roosevelt team. Children are truly loving beings until the world and society teach hate and highlight differences that start to create divides that do not need to exist. There was a rushed reaction to penalize and fire a coach who said nothing and only showed a history of working hard to support student athletes. In addition, dismissing a player who may or may not have made a comment but will no longer be allowed to play or garnish any possible opportunities from continuing in the sport. This knee jerk reaction by the adults made them miss a teachable moment with these students that may have impacted their view of the world in a more positive way.
Starting with a restorative circle and not firing the coach or dismissing any players would have served to resolve this situation more positively. We must remember that these are young adults who will soon be adults; therefore, their opinions and thoughts need to be heard equally from one another. These actions would have allowed the two groups to discuss their differences without any overarching resentment from punishments already imposed. Despite the heated nature of the world surrounding this topic, if each group had been able to feel heard and understood it could have created a real moment of love and support; and it could have been a shining example to the adults of how our youth can speak on a difficult issue and come out as better students, athletes, and people.
Always lead with love,