Utah students face discipline after racist barking during basketball game

Roy High says it will enforce sanctions on its students, including required instruction on appropriate conduct.

A screenshot from a video obtained by The Tribune shows Roy High School students barking at a Hunter High player during a boys basketball game in January 2023. The sounds stemmed from a game last year in which players on Hunter were called "dog eaters," a racially-charged epithet toward people of Asian descent.

Students at Roy High School will receive instruction on “appropriate behavior” — among other disciplinary action — after the fan section shouted racist slurs and barked at Asian American and Polynesian players on the opposing team during a basketball game last month.

The sanctions come after Weber School District conducted an investigation following the Jan. 13 game at Roy High against Hunter High School. Videos were provided by several parents of Hunter High athletes showing the targeted taunting.

“As a school, we recognize and acknowledge our behavior has been harmful to others,” reads a letter from Roy High Principal Michael Martini announcing the school’s response. “We sincerely apologize to Hunter High and any other communities that have been impacted by these actions.”

Hunter High parents had said it was the second year in a row that the team’s basketball players had been subjected to the treatment at Roy High. In 2022, they said, the student section shouted “dog eater,” a derogatory racial epithet, at Asian American and Polynesian players.

When they tried to report it to both the school and the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA), several parents told The Salt Lake Tribune that nothing happened.

This year, when they returned to Roy High, the student section did not repeat that slur but they did bark, which Hunter High parents and players viewed as the same message. Parents also say Roy students shouted other insensitive comments, like “go home and eat more rice,” and mocked Latino players.

Three parents who spoke to The Tribune said a Hunter mom and a coach informed Roy administrators during the game again this year. But they were brushed off.

It wasn’t until they spoke publicly to the media about the concerns, the parents say, that they were taken seriously. But even then, when launching the investigation, the school district questioned whether it was actually racism or “more situational as far as what’s going on during the game (e.g. free throw shooting, in-bounds pass).”

The parents said it was unequivocally racist with jeering based on skin color. The investigation concluded that the conduct was unsportsmanlike.

As a result, Roy High students in the fan section will be required to sit on the upper section of the stands — as opposed to court side — for the next two home games. They will also not be allowed to “taunt or make any type of animal noise or any other cheer/chant that is meant to bait, anger, embarrass, ridicule or demean others.”

Students who violate that in future games will be removed from the gymnasium.

And all student will receive instruction on appropriate cheering at games, as well as be required to “participate in restorative measures.” The district did not detail what that will include.

The high school said it intends on having more staff at games to monitor the student section. Those employees have been trained “to better recognize and address discriminatory conduct,” according to the principal’s letter.

“It is the expectation of students and spectators to abide by all sportsmanship policies,” he wrote.

The Hunter High parents said moving forward, they would like a clear process for handling complaints of racism or bias in high school games. That way, they said, they will know who to report to and there will be a set procedure for how to investigate and issue discipline.

The UHSAA didn’t comment beyond saying the schools will handle the investigation and any discipline. It hasn’t organized additional training for fans or athletes about appropriate sportsmanship in light of the increased reports of racism, but it does have a statement read at the start of each game encouraging fans to “do rowdy right” and be respectful.

Since the videos were published, a collective of 17 Asian and Pacific Islander community organizations in Utah released a statement condemning the racist comments and calling for stronger action.

“Our communities are tired and unsurprised,” they wrote. “As much as our 150,000+ Asians and Pacific Islanders try to make Utah our home, we are continuously reminded that we do not belong. We wish the state of Utah were a safer place to raise our children. We call on Governor [Spencer] Cox, UHSAA, and school districts to create long-term solutions dedicated to making Utah a safer place for Asian and Pacific Islander families to raise our children.”