I-Team 8

Westfield football player: Center Grove HS athlete’s blackface was about me

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — Westfield High School football player Popeye Williams says he needed to speak out after he saw a photo of a Center Grove player in blackface.

“I mean, it’s a blackface,” Williams said of the viral photo. “He tried to draw the tattoos that I have.” 

William says the photo shows black-marker drawings on the Center Grove High School player’s arm. He says those drawings are similar to the tattoos he has, which is what led him to believe the blackface was about him.

“To the kid that did that, you know, I wish you the best,” he said. “I will forgive him for what he did and move on from it.”

Williams put a statement on Instagram with “#spreadlovenothate”: “<<So a lot of you don’t know they were imitating me | I play this game Bc it’s a passion of mine and I have no choice but to play this game. This game comes with trash talking and physicality but never does it come with those actions. | It was a hell of a game from both teams and I LOVE games like those Bc iron sharpens iron for one but for two it’s way more fun that way. I want nothing but the best for those players and for them to be successful in life 💯.”

Williams says the student has not reached out to him or offered an apology, but he is willing to have a conversation with the player to increase education.

Blackface became widely popular during the Civil War, often used by white performers to demean and dehumanize African Americans.

Angela Umphery says her Black son, a Center Grove student, was behind the player in the photo. She saysm as a single white mother, she’s been trying to find ways to have conversations with her son about race.

“We need to talk more about this,” Umphery said. “Somebody needs to educate the kids. They need to talk to them because this is serious.” 

Umphery says the student seen in blackface should be disciplined but she doesn’t believe he should be kicked off the football team. She says she mostly disappointed with adults who were there at the time the photo was taken and those who took to social media to express their opinions.

 “My heart was really broke to see what people were saying against other families against kids. No adult should ever threaten a child.” 

As for Williams, he says he won’t let the situation keep him from moving forward.

“To my fellow Black brothers, just keep your head up. Live every day with a passion (and) thrive to be great.” 

The Center Grove Trojans defeated the Westfield Shamrocks 27-21 in the Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 6A final on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Center Grove says it’s investigating the incident.

On Tuesday morning, Westfield Washington Schools released this statement:

On Saturday evening, two great football teams played an amazing game to crown the Indiana Class 6A champion. Our Rocks represented our community at the highest level on the biggest stage and showed what happens when you out-work and out-love. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but we are proud of our players and coaches, not only for that game, but for all of the hard work that helped get them to the state championship game.

The Westfield Washington Schools administration wants its community to know that it stands with Popeye Williams, his family, our families of color, and anyone else impacted by the black face photos.

“It is unfortunate that the recent media coverage has nothing to do with the great football that was played on the field,” said Dr. Paul A. Kaiser, superintendent of Westfield Washington Schools. “Instead, the lasting image is of a player in black face, mocking a Westfield community member. We’ve been in constant contact with Popeye, his family and other people who may have been impacted to support in any way they need. We want all Westfield families who may have been impacted by that act of racial bias to know that we stand with you and support you as well.”

Alicia Denniston, principal of Westfield High School, also extended her support and commitment to students’ inclusion.

“We stand in support of Popeye and the Williams family as they process and face this act of racial discrimination,” Denniston said. “While we know that people make mistakes, we hope we can all use this opportunity to learn from our actions. WHS remains committed to standing up against racial discrimination, supporting our students of color, and promoting diversity and inclusion efforts in our school and community.”

Everyone plays a part in bringing an end to racism and we can only accomplish that by working together. Westfield Washington Schools remains committed to making sure all of our students and families feel safe, seen and valued. We cannot let actions like this go unnoticed and we are confident that Center Grove High School will take appropriate action with regards to their investigation.

Westfield Washington Schools