Georgetown officials wrongly denied that any racial slurs occurred during a football game against Roxbury Prep and failed to adequately respond to the allegations during a turbulent high school game last fall in the North Shore community, according to a four-month investigation by a former federal prosecutor jointly commissioned by the schools.
The inquiry also found that Roxbury Prep football coaches exaggerated claims of racial taunting and escalated tensions in part by physically confronting Georgetown players.
A 53-page investigative report closes a chapter on a controversial case that generated headlines across the country, as claims that Georgetown’s overwhelmingly white players, staff, and spectators peppered Roxbury Prep’s predominantly Black and Hispanic team with racial epithets reverberated amid the national reckoning over race relations, as former prosecutor Giselle Joffre noted in her report.
In the fraught aftermath, Joffre struggled to sort out precisely what occurred on the evening of Sept. 17, 2021, when the Roxbury Prep football team paid its first visit to Georgetown, according to a copy of her report obtained by the Globe.
“The investigation was complex,” Joffre wrote in the document. “Witnesses from both Roxbury Prep and Georgetown High often offered conflicting and competing versions of the events. . . . There is no clear, simple story to tell about what happened at the game. Some allegations remain unresolved.”
However, Joffre, a partner at Foley Hoag, reached a number of conclusions.
- Roxbury Prep players or coaches were targets of at least four racial slurs, two by Georgetown football players and two by student spectators, one of whom is Black.
- Georgetown High administrators and coaches, and game officials all failed to address complaints of racial slurs in a timely and effective manner.
- No Georgetown coaches or faculty used racial epithets, despite claims to the contrary by a Roxbury Prep coach on social media.
- Roxbury Prep coaches heightened tensions by angrily accusing game officials of racial bias and physically grabbing Georgetown players during a third-quarter melee.
- While many Roxbury Prep players said they use a version of the n-word as a term of endearment or a neutral reference akin to “bro,” two players used the term in a hostile and inappropriate manner toward white Georgetown spectators.
“Ultimately, Georgetown High failed to provide a safe and welcoming space for the Black players and coaches of the visiting team,” the report states. The “Roxbury Prep team was subjected to a racially hostile environment.”
On Thursday, Roxbury Prep sent its school community a letter affirming the accounts of players who complained about the alleged racial epithets, apologizing for the inappropriate behavior of its coaches, and citing the report’s reference to the emotional toll the experience has exacted.
“There is no question the Roxbury Prep players and coaches experienced trauma consistent with their complaints,” the report states. “The pain that players and coaches still carry is palpable.”
Roxbury Prep’s letter states, “We hope that the Georgetown School District will both apologize, take action to heal the harm, and take preventive steps to ensure that these highly inappropriate actions never happen again.”
Georgetown School Superintendent Carol Jacobs said by e-mail, “We are happy to see that the report is ready for release and since we just received it earlier today, we are in the process of reading and digesting the report. We will be releasing a statement soon but are not prepared to comment further at this time.”
In speaking about the incident last fall, Jacobs said: “It’s not about right and wrong. It’s not about Black and white. It’s about, how are we going to come together and figure this out? . . . I’m committed 100 percent to make sure something positive comes out of this for Georgetown and Roxbury and our kids.”
Joffre’s report notes that cultural differences between the Roxbury Prep and Georgetown communities became apparent before the game began. Some Roxbury Prep players, coaches, and parents expressed skepticism about being welcomed in a white suburban town, and they immediately perceived a slight when the players were not provided with a bench when they arrived on the field, Joffre reported, though one was quickly provided.
The investigation also found that when Roxbury Prep’s players kneeled during the national anthem, some Georgetown spectators believed the gesture was “odd or disrespectful, with one parent asserting that Roxbury Prep approached the game with an ‘agenda.’ “
As Georgetown surged to a 30-0 first-half lead, Roxbury Prep’s coaches exacerbated the situation by accusing the game officials of racial discrimination, Joffre found. Further aggravating matters, she reported, the only seats for Georgetown supporters were situated close to Roxbury Prep’s bench, providing easy access for hecklers. (Georgetown has since moved the bleachers from behind the visitors bench.)
At one point, a young Georgetown fan, described as middle-school aged, approached the Roxbury Prep bench and used the n-word in telling a coach that Black people “suck,” the report states, citing four Roxbury Prep witnesses.
Around the same time, according to witnesses from Georgetown and Roxbury Prep, a Georgetown student told a Roxbury Prep coach, “Check the scoreboard, [n-word].”
When the Roxbury Prep coach admonished him, the student replied, “I can say it because I’m Black.”
Joffre concluded that a Georgetown player called the Roxbury Prep quarterback a “monkey,” as he did other opposing players. She also found sufficient evidence that an additional Georgetown player used the “n-word” during the game.
By all accounts, Roxbury Prep coaches complained repeatedly about the alleged racial language.
“Unfortunately, the game officials, Georgetown High coaches, Georgetown High administrators, and at least one police officer did very little to respond to the Roxbury Prep complaints during the game,” the report states. “None appeared to believe the complaints, and no one confronted the Georgetown High players as a team until after the complaints were made public on social media.”
For their part, two Roxbury Prep coaches clearly crossed the line in putting their hands on Georgetown players during the brawl, the report indicates.
One coach yanked a player by his face mask and pulled him toward the Georgetown bench.
“While this was done because the Roxbury Prep coach heard this player use the n-word, that does not justify forcibly handling a minor from an opposing team,” Joffre stated. The player denied using a racial slur.
Video recordings show the other Roxbury Prep coach grabbing a player from behind and throwing him to the ground.
“This behavior was unacceptable and an inappropriate way to break up the fight,” the report states.
The player’s father told the police he did not want to press charges but would like the coach to apologize.
Roxbury Prep halted the game in the fourth quarter, trailing 44-8, complaining of further racial taunts. Hostile tensions persisted afterward, prompting police to ensure the Roxbury Prep team and supporters safely cleared the area.
Joffre’s report provides a more comprehensive review of the controversy than investigative documents compiled last fall by the Georgetown Police Department. As the Globe reported in early June, Georgetown police found no evidence that anyone associated with Georgetown targeted Roxbury Prep with a racial epithet. The police stopped investigating once Joffre launched her inquiry in October.
Joffre’s team, in addition to reviewing the police documents and 38 witness statements, conducted 52 interviews, 30 of people affiliated with Georgetown, 18 connected to Roxbury Prep, and four game officials. Those interviewed included administrators, coaches, players, spectators, and police officers.
The two school districts have paid more than a combined $150,000 for the investigation, with tens of thousands of dollars of additional bills under negotiation with Foley Hoag.
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.