Like most authoritarian organizations, the SDHSAA considers its integrity to be above reproach, but not yours. Not your neighbor’s, not the coaching staffs. All the people outside the SDHSAA routinely have their integrity questioned by officials and the SDHSAA. Somehow, the SDHSAA is magically transformed into a special state of integrity and grace just by declaring themselves such, and by declaring that you should never question their integrity or policies.
Here’s how they pull that off, this is from their 2017 policy statement to officials: “Sportsmanship is always a priority passed down from the SDHSAA. Teams most often take on the characteristics of their coaches.”
Really, then does the team at SDHSAA take on the character of their coaches?
“When a coach is one who believes in the virtues of fundamentals, the players can usually be counted on to play crisp football as designed by the NFHS rules book.”
But what if an official has his own misguided take on what is virtue and what he will do with the power of his whistle? Does such an official then not have the same negative influence on other officials?
“Conversely, a coach who berates officials, uses profanity and constantly points out the supposed mistakes of officials will often have teams that follow suit. “Except the mistakes are not “supposed.” Jesse Jensen of Pine Ridge intercepted a pass in the end zone against Lead/Deadwood earlier this year. He ran it back 105 yards for a touchdown. The official let him run the whole distance before telling him it was not a TD, that he could not run the ball back in high school. That official was dead wrong, the other officials did not correct the official, and had coaches objected, they would have been met with indignant dismissal, or threats. Later, the officials admitted to Pine Ridge Coach Sam Bravo they blew the call. But that call was critical. It stopped Pine Ridge from getting back in the game. Which was the whole intent.
This would not be all right even if the bad calls at Ferguson Field had not persisted for years. These officials are not making “mistakes.” They are too often deliberately making calls that favor the White team over the Lakota team, not absolutely, but critically, so that the outcome is that the White team prevails.
The idea, that in an imperfect world, in a state with a proven track record of deeply institutionalized racism, that racist predisposition and bigotry would not influence the whistle blowing of white officials is astonishingly pig-headed and ignorant, and an expression of racism itself.
“There is a large difference between disagreeing with a call and having your integrity questioned. “Really? Then stop questioning the integrity of the coach. So, the school hires this man to be a positive role model for his kids, but his integrity is constantly questioned—by you, but the officials hired by the SDHSAA, their integrity can never be questioned? That is twisted formula that has given birth to, and protects, the very lack of integrity Lakota ball clubs struggle against almost every game.
All Indian schools in the five state area, should get together and form their own NAHSAA, what need have we of state boundaries? Then our kids can compete in an environment where the whistle blowing won’t be motivated by deeply internalized racist imperatives, where the officials, White or Indian, are held to the highest of standards, and their integrity is continually watchdogged because they are the last people on the field for whom we assume integrity. Every game, every call, officials must continue to establish and reestablish this integrity, to carefully scrutinizing supervisors, and if they have integrity, it should be as easy as putting on those stripes.
Just as there is “a large difference in disagreeing with a call and having your integrity questioned,” there is even a larger difference between making a mistake and blowing a racially biased whistle. But, it is telling the SDHSAA would not agree.
(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)