High school football players in New Jersey say they were the targets of a racist locker room prank involving bananas, prompting an investigation by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
The incident occurred prior to a football game in nearby Summit on Saturday, when the North Plainfield Canucks were placed in an adjoining locker room to the Summit High School Hilltoppers. There was no knob attached to the door connecting the rooms, according to reports, leaving a hole large enough for a banana to squeeze through.
"Right away, there was a banana in the door," North Plainfield player J. T. Valley told CBS 2. "And we told our coach, we’re like, ‘Coach, there’s a banana in there.’ So we took the banana, and then all of a sudden, they put another one. And we took the banana out, and there was another one in there. And they kept on putting them in there.”
Over half of the North Plainfield High School team is black, according to local news site MyCentralJersey.com, giving the bananas a particularly cruel significance to some of the players waiting to the take the field.
Some of the students teared up, according to teammates. North Plainfield's coach did his best to settle his team before their eventual 26-0 loss.
"Before the game he gave us, like, a very inspirational and emotional pre-game speech about how they didn't show courage or character," said North Plainfield player Anthony Lafond.
On Tuesday, Summit High School officials described the incident as both a "misunderstanding" and a "miscommunication."
Summit Superintendent Nathan Parker said in a press release that a student admitted he was responsible for the series of bananas, but explained that it was a good luck tradition that keeps teams from peeking in on or overhearing each other through the hole in the door.
"Racism is unacceptable. We do not tolerate it in our schools, on our fields, or in our community." Parker wrote. "While the nature of this act was misunderstood, the fact that others felt targeted is taken very seriously."
"You can't get in the mind of a kid," North Plainfield assistant superintendent Robert H. Rich told The Huffington Post, later adding that "Summit says there was no malicious intent, or racist intent, but our kids, our players, feel differently."
Ultimately, North Plainfield is placing its trust in the NJSIAA's independent review. The two high schools are expected to submit their individual reports to the association by Friday.
"These kids just want to play football," coach Robert Lake told NJ.com. "They don’t want to be part of all this stuff that goes on out there in the world. They want to play football. They’ve handled themselves very well. We’re proud of the way they’ve handled themselves and we’re moving forward getting ready to play some football games."