Port High principal condemns actions of students after they displayed images at basketball game of Nicolet star that were construed to be racist

Although signs were ‘entirely unacceptable,’ Burke says students actions were not racially motivated

Nicolet High School basketball star Jalen Johnson took a shot during a game Wednesday in Port Washington as Port High students held up images of him wearing a charcoal facial mask that some construed as racist. Ozaukee Press photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington High School Principal Eric Burke on Thursday condemned the actions of dozens of his students who during a Wednesday night basketball game held up images of Nicolet High School star Jalen Johnson wearing a charcoal facial mask that some said made it appear as if he was wearing blackface.

Burke called the actions of students who displayed the photocopied picture of Johnson, which was taken from an Instagram account, “entirely unacceptable.”

“The signs can be viewed by some as racist and are just plain wrong,” he said. “This conduct can be viewed as harmful and hateful. 

“We condemn such behavior because this is not representative of the values of our district.”

The incident went viral on social media, and during a school investigation Thursday administrators learned that a parent was involved. Burke said the man was involved in the printing of the images and that he and his son distributed them at the game.

One student has been suspended in connection with the incident, and school officials continue to investigate.

Wednesday’s game against Nicolet was highly anticipated because Johnson is one of the top players in the nation and ranked by ESPN as the third-best prospect in the Class of 2020.

A fired-up student section directed chants of “overrated” at Johnson and held the images of him over their heads.

“I talked with some of the students involved and they told me they were trying to rattle him (Johnson),” Burke, who was not at the game, said. “They found a picture of him on social media that I guess they thought was embarrassing or made him look funny.”

When school officials saw the images of Johnson, they confiscated them or told students to put them down, Burke said. 

“One of the problems was that there were a lot of them and they kept popping up,” he said. 

Burke said that based on his conversations with students involved in the incident, he doesn’t believe it was racially motivated.

  In a statement issued Thursday, Nicolet Supt. Robert Kobylski said the Instagram post from which the image of Johnson was taken involved Johnson and a friend applying facial masks, which he noted is a common skin care product.

“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,” Kobylski’s statement read.

“My expectation is that Nicolet students always display respect, upstanding character and courtesy to one another and to students from other school in sports and in everyday interactions. I also expect that Nicolet students receive the same treatment from students at other schools.”

In response to a comment on Twitter condemning the incident, Johnson added “UNACCEPTABLE.”

Port High administrators talked to their counterparts at Nicolet High about the incident Thursday.

“They believe that the incident was not racial but that judgement was definitely lacking,” Burke said.

Students who displayed images of Johnson during the game are writing a letter of apology to him and Nicolet fans, Burke said.

The parent involved in the incident has also expressed remorse, Burke said.  

“Now we have to focus on how we make this right in terms of apologies and make this a learning experience for our students and our parents,” Burke said. 


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login