Apparent blackface taunt of elite Milwaukee-area high school basketball player prompts anger, apology

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Jason Owens
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Jalen Johnson faced taunts of an image of his face covered in a black substance during a high school basketball game. (<span>Darren Lee/</span>
Jalen Johnson faced taunts of an image of his face covered in a black substance during a high school basketball game. (Darren Lee/

High school basketball star Jalen Johnson faced taunts from an opposing fanbase in Wisconsin Wednesday that resembled blackface, prompting outrage and an apology from the school’s principal.

Johnson, a forward for the Milwaukee-area Nicolet High School, was met at the free throw line by a group of fans from Port Washington High School taunting him with photocopied images of his face with a black substance on it that was pulled from his Instagram account.


Johnson commented on Twitter images of the incident, calling it “UNACCEPTABLE.”

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Nicolet parent Carisa DiMattina was at the game and believes the taunts were “malicious.”

“They were yelling and just heckling,” DiMattina told CBS 58. “I think it was malicious, I don’t think there would be any way to justify or excuse taking someone’s personal picture, if that’s what it is and displaying it in that manner.”

Principal apologizes: ‘We’re going to make this right’

Port Washington principal Eric Burke apologized Thursday in a statement shared with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“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.”

Aside from his Twitter post, Johnson has not publicly commented on the incident. His father Roderick told the Journal-Sentinel that his family would not comment publicly and noted that the image of Johnson wearing a charcoal skin-care mask was taken from his Instagram account.

Johnson an elite basketball prospect

Johnson, a junior, is a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 3 prospect for the class of 2020 with offers from elite programs including Duke, Kansas and Florida.

Nicolet Superintendent Robert Kobylski released a statement supporting Johnson.

“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,” the 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.

Principal ‘assuming … they didn’t understand’

Burke told the Journal-Sentinel that he believes the students from his school weren’t thinking of the racist implications of using the image.

“This is what I’m assuming: that they didn’t understand how it could be construed,” Burke said. “But when I talked to them about it, it was ‘Oh.’ Then they got it.

“But it’s already happened, so now we’ve got to figure out how to make this right so it doesn’t happen again.”

1 student suspended

The Port Washington School District released a statement noting that a parent had been involved in the printing of the signs and that a student was suspended.

“Even if nothing bad was intended, the conduct sends a bad message, intended or not,” the statement read. “We at the Port Washington-Saukville School District teach acceptance and respect, and this goes against the mission of our district to educate all students on the importance and value of respecting others.”

The statement noted that the district is continuing to investigate the incident.

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