‘You Should Have Been George Floyd’: Black Iowa High School Baseball Player Racially Harassed During Game
A high school baseball player in Iowa was the target of racial slurs and offensive chants during a game in June.
July 10, 2020 at 7:08 pm
Jeremiah Chapman, a 17-year-old who plays baseball for Charles City High School near Des Moines, spoke with the newspaper about the game last month where fans were shouting offensive phrases and taunting his Blackness.
The high school was playing Waverly-Shell Rock High when people in the stands began shouting “Trump 2020,” “Get back to the fields” and “You should have been George Floyd.” They also shouted "Colin" in reference to former NFL star and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick.
Chapman is a junior at the high school and the team's only Black player. He initially told his coach about the chants, and they approached the umpire. The umpire then turned to Chapman and asked him what he wanted to happen. Chapman told the Tribune that he was thankful the umpire gave him options but didn't want the spotlight and didn't want the game to end.
“I just ignored it [on the field]. I’m trying to hurry up to get off the field. Get these three outs and get off the field. It was my teammate’s last game. I thought we were going to win. I thought, maybe you guys can talk to them after the game. I didn’t want that to be on my mind,” he said.
His parents were out of town during the game and only found out because he texted them asking questions about racism.
“Why are people so mean? What do we do to make people treat us so badly?” he texted his mother, who told the outlet she was furious when she found out what happened.
The teen later spoke with his football coach saying, "All my life I’ve been trying to fit in, and this is a reminder I’ll never fit in.”
While his mother, Keisha Cunnings, said she understood what Chapman did, she was incensed that the adults did not stop the game and find whoever was shouting the chants at her son. She told the Tribune that she moved to Iowa when Chapman was in the first grade.
“This event was traumatic. I am worried. Is he going to be on edge for every event? It’s easy to say, ‘This is what happens and you have to move past it,’ but he’s 17. He’s not an adult. He’s not used to this," said Cunnings.
"It was handled the way Jeremiah wanted it to be handled in that moment. Jeremiah’s not a huge attention person. … But at the same time, Jeremiah is 17. He’s a child. He doesn’t have a choice. In my opinion, the game should’ve been stopped immediately. If they couldn’t identify who it was, the whole student section should’ve been kicked out. Or our team should’ve picked up our stuff and left: ‘We will not play anybody who allows their spectators to be disrespectful,'” she added.
Both schools have since released statements about ongoing investigations into the incident.
“Because the investigation into the incident continues to reveal new information, our efforts to communicate in a timely manner have led to some confusion and rumors. Any reports that indicate that the individual or individuals who made the comments is known are rumors. We apologize for the confusion and want to be clear that we are not backtracking or minimizing; we just need to get it right. Unfortunately, getting it right takes longer than any of us want it to. We are committed to a timely and thorough process,” administrators from Waverly-Shell Rock High said in a statement.
“Our students must know we have their backs regardless of the circumstances and that we are fighting shoulder to shoulder with them to end oppression and to create the world that we know is possible. Our state and nation needs to know that our thoughts, words and actions matter. We must do better. We must be better,” administrators from Charles City High wrote in a statement.
Iowa became the first state in the country to resume high school sporting events since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cunnings was blunt about her son's naivety, telling the newspaper that because they live in a small community he has never experienced racism before.
"Jeremiah was very naive and very ignorant to racism. He really hasn’t had to experience it as much. We live in a small community. He’s really good at sports. I feel like this is a wake-up call to know that these things still happen and exist. I preach it, but to experience it is a totally different thing. That was his ‘aha moment’ but in a negative way,” Cunnings said.
“This is not just an isolated issue. This is not just a northeast Iowa issue. This is a nationwide issue we need to address,” she added.
Cunnings tweeted about her son last week.
This is my boy! He is kind, sweet and talented.. if you can’t see beyond his skin color then sucks for you! And just and FYI…he has never worked on a field…his name is Jeremiah not Colin…he doesn’t care who you support politically..and he doesn’t remind you of George Floyd! pic.twitter.com/t5YCZKkS9c
— Keisha M. Cunnings (@Mrz_Keisha) July 1, 2020
Baseball has a history of racism and discrimination within the sport, according to the Bleacher Report. The sport has notoriously struggled to recruit Black players because of racism from other players, fans and coaches. Over the years, some of the greatest baseball players have told stories of their experiences dealing with the sport's racist fans yelling slurs at them from the stands.
In June, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jon Duplantier said when he was playing baseball in college, a person in the opposing dugout yelled, "I got a rope and a tree with your name on it," USA Today reported.
"It kind of felt like that going up through high school, college, even into pro ball, because the representation, because we talked about the numbers. The representation is so low on the playing side, on the coaching side and on the management side where I feel like I'm on an island," Duplantier said during an MLB panel in June.
— MLB (@MLB) June 16, 2020
Other players detailed the racism they faced as they worked their way through little league, high school, college and the MLB.
Just 8% of MLB players are Black, and Derek Jeter is the only Black owner. Hank Aaron, the leader in home runs, received years of death threats after breaking Babe Ruth's record, according to the Bleacher Report. The stories of racism told by baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who was the league's first Black player in 1947, have also become well known.