Five football players at Creston Community High School in a predominantly white Iowa town chose to wear white hoods evoking the Ku Klux Klan, wave a Confederate flag and burn a cross, then take a photo and share it on social media. The racist picture has gone viral, and the students have been kicked off the team.
Creston Community High School officials became aware of the photo when it began circulating online Wednesday and said the photo was not taken on school grounds.
School officials said the students were disciplined, but because they are minors, they did not reveal the extent of the discipline citing privacy laws, according to The Des Moines Register.
However, coach Brian Morrison disclosed that he kicked the five players off the football team.
"I'll be honest, I was appalled," Morrison told the Register. "It was very disturbing. Just taking the kids out of the equation, just looking at the photo, it's something that you see on national television, and it's one of those things that just curls your stomach.
"With us having an African American quarterback on our football team, you know, that's where your mind goes first, to 'How's he doing?' It is a lot to put on a kid's plate."
Kylan Smallwood, 16, is in his junior year at the high school. He's the team's starting quarterback and the only Black athlete on the varsity team. He also plays on the varsity basketball team.
"I would see that kind of stuff like Charlottesville and think that's pretty messed up," Smallwood told the Register. "I never thought that would happen to our small town."
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President Trump's statements on Charlottesville were designed not to rile his most loyal base — white supremacists.
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"I thought these guys were my friends," Smallwood said of his former teammates. "I've been to some of their houses before.
"I was just mostly shocked, and I wanted to ask them why they did it. But, I haven't had the chance to yet. I was shocked and pretty mad to be honest."
Smallwood's father is Black and from Arkansas, and his mother is a white native of Creston. He told the local news channel WHO-HD that the actions of the five students do not take away from the bond he feels with his teammates.
"We are together, we are one," he said. "Those other five are not part of the team, so it's just us. We are family."
Smallwood and Morrison's interview with The Des Moines Register:
According to Census.gov, Creston has approximately 7,829 residents, who are 96 percent white, 2.3 percent Latino and 1 percent Black; Asians and American Indians comprise less than 1 percent of the population. The town's high school is a part of the Creston Community school district, which only has 6 percent minority students, according to KCCI News.
On Friday, Jamie and Megan Travis, parents of one of the students in the photo, submitted a statement to the Creston News Advertiser apologizing for their son's actions.
The Travises said, in part:
"We do not condone the behavior that was expressed in the recent photo that was disseminated throughout various media sources. We understand that our son has conducted himself in a way that is inappropriate and has caused disruption in the community. Our son recognizes his poor judgment and respectfully asks forgiveness from his classmates, the school and the community. The photo in no way reflects our family values."
The couple also stated they agree with their son being removed from the football team.
Although the school considers the photograph of the five students a violation of school policy, Union County Attorney Tim Kenyon said the photo is not criminal.
Kenyon released a statement explaining that the photograph "falls into the category of protected speech by the virtue of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
"The Union County Sheriff's Office and local law enforcement are generally aware of the incident to which you refer," Kenyon said. "At this juncture, the school has considered this to be a violation of school policy.
"County officials have not been contacted nor requested to take any official action. While I recognize that individuals were likely offended by the image shown in the photograph, unless or until there becomes an issue of specific conduct showing that the images were directed at individuals (or groups of individuals) for a specific purpose, criminal statutes do not apply.
"The photograph itself falls into the category of protected speech by the virtue of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. We are continuing to monitor the situation.
"While I have personal opinions as [to] the inappropriate nature of the image, it remains that I am professionally obligated to follow the statutes as created by the Iowa Legislature. The fact that persons are offended by the image is not, per se, a sufficient basis to initiate any criminal investigation nor any criminal charges."