Lincoln vs Cathedral: it’s bigger than football
Reform is difficult.
It cannot happen when people on both sides of an issue are rooted, defiant, and defensive. There has to be a willingness to find common ground – even if it’s not an exact meeting in the middle.
I’ve written a lot lately about the idea of finding common ground, which seems in jeopardy. The mask and vaccine warrants certainly put him to the test.
In schools, issues of race and ethnicity have created deep (and deepening) chasms. We saw it in Coronado earlier this year, when fans of the Coronado High School basketball team threw tortillas at their opponents after a hard game. The supposed celebratory gesture has garnered the attention (and no shortage of anger) from across the country. To many, it seemed like a mockery. Coronado is a wealthy white community; the other team played for Orange Glen High School in Escondido, where 80 percent of the student body is Latino. The Coronado Division regional basketball championship has been revoked.
And just recently, Lincoln High School head coach David Dunn announced that his football team would not be playing their scheduled match against Cathedral Catholic High School. The move stems from a controversial social media post that surfaced in April after last season’s game. It showed cathedral student athletes wearing T-shirts marked “Catholics Against Convicts III” with the caption: “We are running the city”. Others flashed what appeared to be a gang sign.
The phrase on the t-shirts dates back to a 1988 college football game between Notre Dame and the University of Miami – a play about Notre Dame’s Catholic image and Miami’s notoriety, after several players on the team were arrested and lost their scholarships.
It is telling that the slogan has endured, over 30 years later, despite the anger and outrage it sparked. Dunn, his players, and the Lincoln High School community had a similar reaction to the shirts. Lincoln students are predominantly black and Latino and come from low-income families.
Following an investigation into the April incident, the San Diego City Conference (SDCC) sanctioned the cathedral’s athletics program. The school was placed on probation until the 2022-2023 sports season. Some students have been suspended. Additionally, Cathedral has been tasked with implementing restorative justice and diversity education for its entire sports program and submitting regular progress reports to the SDCC.
In his letter regarding the cancellation (which resulted in a forfeit for the Lincoln team), Dunn acknowledged the efforts of the cathedral community to connect with Lincoln’s coaches and faculty, but said the efforts had not gone far enough. Dunn wrote: “More deliberate intentional efforts to combat racism are warranted. Combating racism and anti-darkness requires daily and intensive interior work and system changes. “
Coaches for Racial Equality is a San Diego-based group of coaches, athletes, parents and officials who meet every two weeks to discuss racism and social justice in sport. Dunn joined their virtual chat on October 27, two days after his letter was published.
Dunn told the group: “We’re tired of being treated unfairly – unfairly – and thinking that everything will be fine. You can’t put a timeline on healing. The decision, Dunn said, was bigger than football: after speaking to his team members individually, he knew Cathedral’s behavior had profoundly affected their mental health. And so, Dunn must have stood up and said something, thinking the matter was not properly addressed.
Amid the discord, the coach recalled his own experiences growing up four blocks from Lincoln High. As a 9-year-old aspiring footballer, Dunn was told that when he played certain venues he would be treated differently, stomping on and cursing. He was ordered to “deal with it” and not to retaliate. Dunn asked, fairly, “How do you deal with this at age 9?” What is the effect, if you accept what is unacceptable?
Dunn spoke similar words of caution to his 9-year-old grandson 40 years later. Still, he’s optimistic that there is a way forward – a way to make things right. It will start with a conversation between Dunn and Sean Doyle, Cathedral’s head coach. More than diversity training – which is certainly a step in the right direction – it is dialogue that can foster healing and lead to systemic change.
The Coaches for Racial Equality conversation was moderated by Michael Brunker, a former college and professional basketball coach who ran the Jackie Robinson YMCA for 22 years. I asked Brunker what it would mean to ‘fix things’ in high school sports. All the coaches would do the right thing, he said, when it comes to racing issues. Players, fans and officials too. But first, Brunker added: “The victim must be healed.”
Here it is. Reform is difficult.
Dinkin is president of the National Conflict Resolution Center, a San Diego-based group that seeks solutions to difficult problems, including intolerance and incivility. To learn more about NCRC programming, visit ncrconline.com.