Things began to get ugly early in last week’s Roxbury Prep-Georgetown football game, and all Omar Marrero could do was watch.
Marrero’s son Avel is the quarterback for Roxbury Prep, a public charter school in Boston with a mostly Black student body. He was on the field when the team began to hear taunts and racial slurs from players and fans from Georgetown, the home team.
By the third quarter, what began as sport was fast turning into trauma.
“We were in the game and a fight broke out close to the end of the third quarter, and everything was escalating,” Marrero said Friday.
“That particular field is weird because you don’t have actual bleachers,” Marrero continued. “So you have the people just surrounding the field and apparently a bunch of fans started using the n-word and provoking the frustration of both players and coaches.”
In the third quarter, two players got into a fight. And from there, things got progressively worse. The game was ultimately suspended in the fourth quarter when Roxbury Prep players refused to continue playing while under verbal assault and physical threat.
The incident has drawn some attention, with Georgetown officials pledging, in a public statement, to pursue a full investigation. While declaring that racism would not be tolerated, the statement also characterized the reports of misconduct as “allegations.” (Through an aide, Georgetown school superintendent Carol Jacobs declined to comment further.)
The cautious public comments issued to date don’t really capture the horror of what these young people were put through and will never forget — being subjected to racist abuse in a hostile environment.
This didn’t happen in some supposedly backward Southern state. This was right here in supposedly progressive Massachusetts.
“We tried to finish the game,” Marrero told me. But ultimately the game had to be stopped, as the abuse from some in the home crowd kept coming.
“There were some of them who wanted to continue to play, there were some of them who wanted to fight back. There were some of them who broke down crying,” Marrero said.
Until the Roxbury Prep contingent was safely out of the area, they worried that they were in danger.
“I have never experienced something like this where we needed to be protected by the police because we thought people were going to jump us,” Marrero said.
Until last week, Avel Marrero had had only great experiences playing football. He took up the sport at 8 after moving to Boston from Puerto Rico. His father proudly noted that he made the varsity as a freshman at Roxbury Prep.
During the pandemic, the team was able to play an abbreviated season. That’s when he became a starting quarterback.
Marrero said the incident at Georgetown was not the first time Roxbury Prep players had been targeted in a racist incident. Two seasons ago a group of players — wearing shirts and ties, their required pre-game attire — were verbally assaulted by a Boston Police officer after being asked to leave a McDonald’s, where they had gathered, because they weren’t spending any money. The officer was placed on leave as a result.
But that incident pales in comparison to the insanity in Georgetown. Roxbury Prep parents were urged to stick together in the locker room after the game, for their safety, and were ultimately escorted out by Georgetown police.
Imagine going to a high school sporting event to cheer on your child, and leaving under police guard. The feeling of rage must have been overwhelming.
“It was really sad,” Marrero said, “to see these big men, these coaches, just breaking down and crying.”
Marrero said the school has done its best to support the students, with multiple counseling sessions during the week. But that will only do so much to lessen the blow.
“I can only speak for my family,” Marrero said. “We cried a lot. We shared our concerns about whether this is really the right place for us.”
Roxbury Prep was scheduled to play a home game Friday night in West Roxbury. The timing couldn’t have been better. After the horror visited on them in Georgetown, this week, they could just be high school kids, and play a football game.
Which is what they deserve.