Reform after slurs directed at Portola students

Annabel Tiong and Rachel Yokota

The Irvine community made widespread calls for disciplinary action after a Laguna Hills High School student aimed racial slurs and comments towards Portola High School boys basketball player Makai Brown on Jan. 21.
Footage of the incident circulated throughout social media in which the Laguna Hills student can be heard shouting “Who let him out of his cage?” and “Where is his slave owner?” from the stands while Brown is shooting a free throw. Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan has called for immediate action in an open letter to the Saddleback Valley Unified School District school board.
“I am asking SVUSD to conduct an investigation into the coach and other staff regarding their involvement in incidents like this and bring forward appropriate actions to be taken,” Khan wrote. “As a community, we cannot collectively end systemic racism until there are consequences to actions.”
Following Khan’s letter, the SVUSD President Amanda Morrel stated that measures have been taken to correct the actions done by the Laguna Hills student, and further steps have been taken to ensure this does not happen again. However, Portola is not alone in being targeted by hateful and mean spirited heckling by spectators; Northwood student-athletes too have been subject to disparaging comments during competitions.
“It gets in our head a ton,” girls varsity volleyball player sophomore Allie Maloney said. “The reason I play is because I love the sport and I love the feeling I get just being on the court. But that night I was counting down the moment until the end of the game, which I’ve never done before.”
Northwood’s own basketball team has expressed their dissatisfaction with the overall situation and stand by those affected.
“I was very angry that the incident persisted throughout the game without anyone saying anything,” boys varsity basketball co-captain senior Devon Huang said. “Of course, I’ve encountered people who trash talked me and made racist remarks. But I can’t imagine how someone must feel after hearing comments of that severity.”
With incidents such as these, broader issues about sportsmanship and athletics culture at games are surfacing.
“People get excited. It’s a part of competition for fans, coaches and parents alike. That emotion in competition is fun, and healthy when it can be directed in a positive way,” Northwood principal Leslie Roach said. “All of us, all high schools, have worked to keep that positive way. When inappropriate behavior happens at a game, people have to report it.”
In solidarity, members of the community have rallied around Makai, including businessman JJ Jones, who granted Makai a $20,000 scholarship, and 10 Laguna Hills alumni, who demanded more proactive change in an open letter to the Laguna Hills president.
“I think this is a chance for us all to reflect on the things we are saying and doing and whether or not we’re supporting each other,” Roach said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that we’re bringing each other up and trying to make already difficult circumstances a little easier.”