racial slur
An announcer was overheard making racist comments toward players during a 6A Oklahoma State Basketball Tournament game between Norman High School and Midwest City High School on Thursday, March 11, 2021. (Screenshot)

(Editor’s note: The following story includes reference to a racial slur. It was updated multiple times throughout the afternoon of Friday, March 12, to reference statements from the OSSAA and NFHS. It was updated a final time at 5:15 p.m. to include Rowan’s statement and Goodwin’s comments.)

Before a 6A State Girls Basketball Tournament game Thursday between Norman High School and Midwest City High School, an announcer was heard on a hot microphone making derogatory statements and using a racial slur to describe Norman High players who were kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial and social injustice.

“They’re kneeling? Fuck them. I hope Norman gets their ass kicked,” said one announcer, later identified as Matt Rowan.

The second announcer, identified as Scott Sapulpa, responds, “Are you serious?”

Rowan continues: “Fuck them. I hope they lose. Come on Midwest City. They’re going to kneel like that? Hell with them. They even saluting the flag? Some of them aren’t. Fucking n*****s.”

Video of the incident spread on social media Friday morning and is embedded at the end of this article. The game was being broadcast by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which operates the NFHS Network. The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association contracts with NFHS Network to stream pay-per-view broadcasts of tournament games, and the organizations subsequently hired Tahlequah-based OSPN Live to produce coverage of the 6A State Girls Basketball Tournament.

Hours after the publication of this story, OSPN Live leader Matt Rowan released a statement admitting that he made the remarks. Asking for forgiveness, Rowan said he “cannot explain why I made these comments” because “I have never considered myself to be racist.”

Rowan’s full statement also includes a claim that his “spiking” blood sugar was a factor:

I, Matt Rowan, on Thursday, March 11, 2021, most regrettably made some statements that cannot be taken back.

During the Norman High School girls basketball game against Midwest City, I made inappropriate and racist comments believing that the microphone was off; however, let me state immediately 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 I have embarrassed and disappointed my family and my friends.

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.

During this time I was with a colleague and friend Scott Sapulpa. Scott Sapulpa was not the one that made these comments, it was me and me alone. It is not my desire to shirk my responsibility in this matter and I certainly do not want Scott Sapulpa to share in the blame of this most unfortunate incident.

While the comments I made would certainly seem to indicate that I am racist, I am 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. (I) further apologize to all involved in this situation and simply to the entire sports community.

There are no other words to explain what occurred. This is something for which I must take responsibility; and I wholeheartedly accept responsibility for my words and actions. It is my sincere desire that I can obtain forgiveness for my actions and words.

After learning of Rowan’s comments, Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) expressed concern about his role as a sportscaster and his prior time as a youth pastor.

“In this day and age, the racism of the past is very present, and Mr. Rowan should not be engaged with any youth because we need finer examples,” she said.

Goodwin serves as chairwoman of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus and praised the students who kneeled “to peacefully protest.”

“They are protesting police injustice, and they have a right to do so,” she said. “When I saw black and white students together protesting injustice, that’s beautiful. That’s a beautiful America.”

OSSAA conducting ‘investigation’

OSSAA executive director David Jackson told News 9 and The Oklahoman that the broadcast crew “will not be doing any more games for the remainder of our championships.”

Cameron Jourdan of The Oklahoman reported Jackson’s full statement:

The OSSAA was made aware that some very offensive, inappropriate comments were made during the NFHS livestream broadcast of the quarter final state tournament basketball game between the Norman High School and Midwest City girls teams at Sapulpa High School on Thursday night.

On behalf of the NFHS Network and the OSSAA, we sincerely apologize that this happened at one of our events. While we are currently investigating the incident, this crew will not be doing any more games for the remainder of our championships. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated by anyone representing the NFHS or OSSAA. State tournament playoffs are a special time for our schools, their students and their communities, and anything that is counter-productive to education-based activities will be addressed immediately and appropriately.

We will make further comments as we finish our investigation.

OSSAA posted that statement and a statement from NFHS on its website Friday afternoon. The NFHS statement reads:

We were sickened by the comments made last night at the start of the NFHS Network’s broadcast of the OSSAA girls basketball game between Norman High School and Midwest City High School. The thoughts expressed in no way represent the NFHS Network and we are outraged that they found their way into our production.

The NFHS Network firmly condemns racism, hate and discrimination, and there is no room for this in high school sports or anywhere.

We sincerely apologize to the students, their families and the entire community for having such ignorant comments expressed during the broadcast. We are aggressively investigating the incident and will ensure that any individuals responsible will have no relationship with the NFHS Network moving forward.

The announcers were contracted by OSSAA for the state tournament, according to Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino. He released a statement Friday addressing the incident:

Last night during the Norman High School girls’ basketball game versus Midwest City in the Oklahoma 6A State Basketball Tournament, National Federation of High School (NFHS) Network announcers on a live stream broadcast made racist and hateful comments targeted at our Norman High student athletes. The announcers were contracted by OSSAA for the state tournament.

We condemn and will not tolerate the disgusting words and attitudes of these announcers. This type of hate speech has no place in our society and we are outraged that it would be directed at any human being, and particularly at our students.

We fully support our students’ right to freedom of expression and our immediate focus is to support these girls and their coaches and families, particularly our Black students and coaching staff. It is tragic that the hard work and skill of this team is being overshadowed by the vile, malignant words of these individuals. We will do everything in our power to support and uplift our team and everyone affected by this incident.

Moving forward NPS will rely only on our long-standing, community partner SportsTalk Media to live stream the remainder of the tournament, as we have full confidence in their proven ability to respectfully support our student athletes.

The game was played at Sapulpa High School’s gymnasium, which features a Native American mascot at center court.

‘It’s corrosive, and it has to change’

The comments from announcers have sparked outrage for community members. Norman Mayor Breea Clark tweeted that she was “livid and absolutely disgusted” by the comments directed at the Norman High players.

Some Norman High players have taken to Twitter to express their frustrations about the racist incident as well.

“Disrespectful and disgusting. This is why we kneel. I love my sisters, and this makes us that much stronger. You are part of the problem,” Norman High School junior guard Myka Perry tweeted.

While OSSAA has not commented on the incident or responded to media requests, the organization did tweet the score from last night’s game, which Norman High won 53-40.

Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) said the Legislative Black Caucus has reached out to OSSAA as well, and he called the situation “sickening.”

“The frustrating thing is that Black athletes have built a sports empire at all levels in Oklahoma,” said Nichols, a former University of Tulsa football player. “The comments are a harsh reminder that, at the end of the day, in the minds of far too many, Black athletes are no more than ‘fucking n*****s.’ This isn’t Jackie Robinson breaking the Major League Baseball color barrier in the 1940s, this is 2021 Oklahoma. It’s sickening, it’s corrosive, and it has to change.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister issued a statement around noon Friday.

“The remarks made were sickening and vile,” she said. “It is critical on 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.”

Video from the NFHS Network

(Editor’s note: Tres Savage contributed to this report.)