The leader of a Tahlequah crew livestreaming a video of the Norman High-Midwest City's girls basketball game Thursday night is apologizing for racial slurs and other foul language he directed at players who knelt while the national anthem was played before the game.
Matt Rowan, who owns OSPN Live, had been under contract to film the playoff games for the Oklahoma Secondary School Athletics Association. He said that when he made the comments about the players, he didn’t realize the mic was hot, and said his blood sugar was low when he was "acting out." The video was posted to Twitter Friday morning, and by midafternoon, it had circulated all over the country.
On the video, Rowan is heard to refer to the players as “f****** n******.” He added, "I hope Norman gets their ass kicked,” and then "I hope they lose. C'mon Midwest City. They're gonna kneel like that? Hell no.”
Initially, Scott Sapulpa was identified by some media as the announcer who made the racist slurs. Sapulpa, a Hulbert coach, was part of the film crew, but Rowan said Sapulpa was not the one who made the actual comment. Rowan admitted in a statement released through his attorney, Janet Bickel Hutson, that he "regrettably made some statements that cannot be taken back."
Hulbert Public Schools Superintendent Jolyn Choate also released a statement, saying she recognized that Sapulpa was in the box and that he had failed to defend the Norman girls basketball team while the remarks were being made.
"While it has been reported incorrectly that our employee was the announcer who used racist language, our employee should have stood up for the students and condemned the racist language from the other announcer and the hate and intolerance it represents,” said Choate. “Our district strives to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe and valued. We will not accept or tolerate racist and hateful language or actions, nor will we stand by silently and allow racism to go unchallenged."
In Rowan’s statement, he said he believed the microphone to be off, but “that is no excuse; such comments should have never been uttered.”
“I am a family man. I am married, have two children and at one time was a youth pastor. I continue to be a member of a Baptist church. I have not only embarrassed and disappointed myself, [but] I have embarrassed and disappointed my family and my friends,” said Rowan. “I will state that I suffer Type 1 Diabetes, and during the game, my sugar was spiking. While not excusing my remarks, it is not unusual when my sugar spikes that I become disoriented and often say things that are not appropriate, as well as hurtful. I do not believe that I would have made such horrible statements absent my sugar spiking.”
Rowan admitted that while the comments aired do suggest he is a racist, he said he is not.
“I have never considered myself to be racist, and in short, cannot explain why I made these comments. I offer my most sincere apologies for the inappropriate comments made and hope that I can obtain forgiveness. I specifically apologize to the Norman High School girls basketball team, their families, their coaches and their entire school system. Additionally, I offer my apologies to OSSAA and NFHS network,” said Rowan. “I further apologize to all involved in this situation and simply to the entire sports community.”
The NFHS told other media outlets that it is "aggressively investigating" the incident.
The incident has already cost the NFHS a contract from Tahlequah Public Schools, which will no longer air its games on the network. In a statement posted on Facebook, the district recognized that the broadcasting crew is based out of Tahlequah but stressed they are not employees, and have instead operated as an independent contractor. They said that contract had been terminated as of Friday.
“At Tahlequah Public Schools, all students are important and treated fairly and equitably. We are appalled at the words used by the broadcast crew. It is our belief that this type of behavior has no place in Tahlequah Public Schools. We will do everything in our power to ensure our athletes have the utmost respect representing Tahlequah Public Schools,” said TPS Athletic Director Matt Cloud.
Tahlequah Superintendent Leon Ashlock said the district will not give its money to organizations that make such statements.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister also commented, saying the remarks made were "sickening and vile."
"It is critical for all of us to be clear that racism has no place in society and must never be tolerated, especially in our public schools. My heart aches for the young female athletes who were subjected to this hateful and disgusting tirade," said Hofmeister in a press release.
Norman Legislative Democrats also released a joint statement in response: “The comments made by the announcer were vile and racist. No Oklahoman, let alone a student, deserves to hear that type of insulting language. We stand in solidarity with the Norman High players who were the targets of the slur and applaud their social consciousness and determination. Fight on, and know that you have our support.”
The Democrats also called for OSSAA to sever ties with NFHS and to implement diversity training for school districts.
Cherokee Nation Communications released a statement late Friday, regarding Rowan's business relationship with the tribe: "Cherokee Nation is aware of the racist comments made by a local businessman. While he does not have a contract with the tribe, his company has done business in the past with Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation has zero tolerance for racism, as it is contrary to our values. Accordingly, doing further business at this time with him or his company would be inconsistent with those values. Cherokee Nation also values forgiveness, understanding and redemption. Our leaders pray that he moves carefully and thoughtfully down a path of forgiveness, understanding and redemption."
Kim Poindexter and Sheri Gourd contributed to this story.