CHARLES CITY — Jeremiah Chapman is used to run-of-the-mill trash talk that comes with the territory of playing an away game.
A four-sport athlete who just finished his junior year at Charles City High School, Chapman thought that’s all it would be during a June 27 varsity baseball game at Waverly-Shell Rock High School, when the bleacher section behind the outfield started getting rowdy and calling out to his teammate, sophomore Hunter Sullivan, in left field.
“’Number 17, you’re garbage,’” Chapman remembered people in the stands shouting at his teammate. “I said, ‘Hunter, just ignore it.’”
The next inning, the W-SR fans turned on Chapman, playing center field. At first, it was the usual taunting of Chapman’s jersey number, 4.
But then, Chapman — the only Black player on Charles City’s team — heard much worse.
“They called me Colin — I assumed they were just calling me Colin Kaepernick,” after the Black former NFL quarterback famous for kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. “Then, after I caught a ball, they said, ‘You need to go back to the fields to do your job.’”
Sullivan missed a pop fly after that, prompting the section to return to taunting him, telling him to “leave left field.”
Chapman finally looked at who was taunting his teammate, and the group of people — he’s not sure if it was students or adults — turned their ire back at Chapman.
“They looked at me and said, ‘You should have been George Floyd,’” the Minneapolis man killed by a police officer. “Then they started chanting ‘Trump 2020,’” Chapman said.
Chapman talked to the umpire at the inning break, who asked Chapman if he wanted to stop the game. Chapman shook his head and kept playing, swallowing his emotion until the ride home.
“It hurt a lot,” Chapman said, noting it’s only the second time he’s experienced racist name-calling at a baseball game. “I didn’t try to show it during the game, because I didn’t want to seem like a punk.”
Both the Charles City and Waverly-Shell Rock school districts are addressing the issue, which Charles City superintendent Mike Fisher said has been investigated and “corroborated” by multiple sources.
“The overwhelming evidence was it absolutely happened,” Fisher said, noting it “unfortunately” wasn’t the first time racial remarks have been heard at visiting games.
Waverly-Shell Rock High School put out a statement on its Facebook page saying officials there also “fully acknowledge” the remarks happened. Administrators there were not available for comment, but noted they were continuing to investigate.
“This behavior is unacceptable. We make no excuses, because there are none,” the Waverly-Shell Rock post said. “We do, however, wish to make a sincere apology to the Charles City school district and community and, in particular, the young man towards whom these comments were directed.”
Fisher, also athletic director at Charles City, has been in “leadership discussions” with Waverly-Shell Rock officials to “discuss this and how to move forward.”
“This isn’t about them. This is something that happens pervasively in society that students of color have to deal with everywhere,” he said. “Waverly has been dealing with it to the best of their ability.”
The Charles City school district sent a message to families and staff Wednesday morning condemning the remarks, a copy of which the Charles City Press posted Wednesday.
“We feel compelled to speak out and bring light to the situations that routinely happen to our kids,” said the statement, which was signed by Fisher, five principals at Charles City and six members of the school’s senior leadership team.
“Our students must know we have their backs regardless of the circumstances, and that we are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with them to end oppression and to create the world that we know is possible,” the statement continued. “Our state and nation needs to know that our thoughts, words, and actions matter. We must do better. We must be better.”
Fisher said his district’s response wouldn’t stop at the statement. He’s also reached out to leaders at the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, asking for official meetings and further guidance on racial incidents at athletic events statewide.
“We cannot continue to operate this way,” Fisher said, noting the district was still in the process of figuring out better ways to handle such incidents in the moment. “It’s a common occurrence, and we need to shine a light and do better.”
Although Chapman said he was still working through his pain over the incident — and debating whether to continue with football, basketball, track and baseball in his last year of high school — he said he believes his teammates and coaches are “all by my side.”
That included Hunter, who he said answered the inappropriate remarks in the moment, something Chapman appreciated.
This is my boy! He is kind, sweet and talented.. if you can’t see beyond his skin color then sucks for you! And just and FYI...he has never worked on a field...his name is Jeremiah not Colin...he doesn’t care who you support politically..and he doesn’t remind you of George Floyd! pic.twitter.com/t5YCZKkS9c— Keisha M. Cunnings (@Mrz_Keisha) July 1, 2020
“I try my hardest to fit in. Now that I know that not everybody is gonna like me for who I am ... I’m just a person like you,” Chapman said. “It’s hard that people aren’t able to accept me.