Players defend local coaches who dressed in blackface for Halloween

San Diego NAACP branch calls for coaches firing

SAN DIEGO - Serra High School football players are defending two coaches who dressed in blackface for Halloween.

Witnesses told 10News they saw Brian Basteyns and Harold Seeley wear the blackface costumes to an SDSU game on Saturday. Parents say one of the coaches then posted the Halloween photos on his Facebook page.

Tuesday night, it was back to business for head football coach Basteyns at practice. Earlier in the day, players knew all was not well.

"I said hello, he smiled and he just kept walking by but you could tell there was something bothering him," said Xavier Miller.

Miller has been playing for Basteyns and Seeley for four years. He laughed when he saw the photo of them dressed as members of the Jamaican bobsled team from the movie Cool Runnings and was not offended at all. Miller even credits the coaches for being good role models on and off the field.

"They always tell us good morals," said Miller. "We always have to represent Serra football when we're outside of Serra."

Players are defending Basteyns, who met with the team Tuesday and apologized.

"He's an emotional guy, but I've never seen him break down like that," said team captain Richard Price. "He was really upset that these allegations were happening and he felt as if he really did something wrong and he really wanted to express to us his apologies."

The players who spoke to 10News all said the issue was being blown out of proportion. Jonathan Ziv called it a "harmless prank," while Josh Garcia said that is what Halloween is all about.

Price, who is black, said he also laughed when he learned the coach had dressed up like a member of the Jamaican bobsled team, saying Basteyns sometimes played the "Cool Runnings" movie about them for his students.

U.S. history teacher Peggy Spates told 10News she was angry when she learned about the blackface costume. 

"There's just certain things you don't do," she said. "You don't call people the N-word or any other racial epithet. You don't put black on your face. I don't care what team you're trying to represent."

Spates echoed the comments of several parents who said the coaches were out of line.

"I think they are disrespecting the African-Americans, and I don't think it's right," said parent Ricardo Toamyo.

"They should set better examples for the students," Janice Batten told 10News.

Others cannot understand the controversy.

Ed Bohannon told 10News, "It wasn't offensive to me. I'm sure it could be offensive to some people but I don't see why. It's Halloween. The whole thing about Halloween is being out of character, being something that you can't be."

For four years, Al Dave spent 40 to 60 hours a week with Basteyns and Seeley as a fellow football coach.

"If there was a sliver of racism, I would have reported it myself," he said.

One African-American parent who did not want to be identified said there are bigger issues to worry about than what a coach wore on Halloween.

On Tuesday, the local branch of the NAACP called for the firing of the coaches. Lei-Chala Wilson, the president of the San Diego branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, issued a statement which read in part:

"The NAACP San Diego Branch is calling for the dismissal/firing of the Serra High coaches who have been reported as wearing 'black face' to a SDSU sports event and then posting the pictures on FB. The inappropriate conduct of the coaches is problematic, but the fact that they are friending young adults and students at Serra High and probably other high schools, on FB, is also something that should be investigated.

The NAACP San Diego Branch is concerned and outraged about the actions of Serra High School coaches in dressing in 'black face' which is very offensive and insensitive to African Americans. In the 21st Century, where our country is more diverse as ever, African Americans and people of color ask why we have to address these issues repeatedly. You would think that an educator would know this. Educators should be aware that racist insensitivity can have a negative impact on students, today and tomorrow. Educators should serve as role models and not undergo actions that show an insensitivity or intolerance of others.

We see no humor in 'black face'. We are confounded why these coaches would be comfortable wearing 'black face' out in public. It is still not appropriate, acceptable or humorous, notwithstanding the upcoming Halloween occasion."

The group asked the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, Cindy Marten, to take appropriate disciplinary actions against the coaches.

"Our students should have the experience of having relationships with those of other cultures, races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, gender, etc., without the educators giving them prejudicial and racist views from their own actions," Wilson wrote.

The local branch of the Anti-Defamation League says it is "deeply distressed" by the incident and also released a statement, which read in part:

"These coaches' decision to incorporate 'black face' into their Halloween costumes shows a disregard for the fraught racial history of our country and the unique role that 'black face' played in establishing and furthering racist images and attitudes ... We call upon the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to investigate this matter and send a clear message to its community of parents, teachers and students that this type of insensitivity has no place in San Diego.  As a national leader in anti-bias education, ADL stands ready to assist SDUSD as we work together to increase awareness in an effort to rid our community of harmful bias."

The San Diego Unified School District may launch an investigation, according to school board president John Lee Evans. 

"I want to make it very clear that we do not in any way tolerate any inappropriate activities by our staff, and we highly value diversity and respect for all of our students and staff and the entire community of San Diego," he said.

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