During a high school basketball game Wednesday night in Port Washington, Wisconsin, dozens of Port Washington students taunted Nicolet (Wisconsin) High School standout Jalen Johnson with a photocopied image that made him appear to be wearing blackface.
A photo of the scene has gone viral on social media and sparked outrage in the Milwaukee-area basketball community for the racist overtones.
Port Washington principal Eric Burke said he first heard about the incident Wednesday night. He said the students didn’t reveal the picture until Johnson went to the free-throw line. (The student section is located behind the basket.) Burke said a Port Washington student made copies of the picture and distributed them in the student section.
Nicolet superintendent Robert Kobylski issued a statement saying the picture was taken from Johnson’s Instagram account, and that in the photo, Jalen Johnson was wearing a charcoal skin-care facial mask.
“I cannot speak to the motivation or intent the Port Washington students had in displaying this photo, whether a harmless skin-care prank or a more deeply troubling, racially motivated scenario,” Kobylski’s statement read. “I can attest, however, to the fact that Jalen is more than a tremendous athlete: He is a fine, upstanding young man and deserves to be treated with respect and courtesy by all students and people, no matter what bench they are rooting for.”
Jalen’s father, Roderick, said the family would not comment. Jalen Johnson, however, responded on Twitter, retweeting a tweet that called the incident despicable and adding a brief comment.
ESPN ranks Johnson as the third-best prospect in the 2020 class. He has received scholarship offers from most, if not all, of the nation’s top programs.
Burke issued an apology on Thursday.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “We’re going to make this right. Apologies have to be made. As a principal, I apologize for our students’ actions, but our students are going to be involved in a sincere apology for what happened and the people who made this happen, there are going to be consequences.”
Despite the distraction on Wednesday, Johnson still recorded a triple double — 10 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists — in a 75-40 win.