Football players at an east Texas high school are under fire for burning an effigy dressed in the jersey of a player from a rival team — who also happens to be black.
Students at Van High School sparked the blaze Thursday night as part of its annual homecoming bonfire, CBS 19 reported. Video of the event shared on the Van Independent School District Facebook page, which has since been removed, shows crowds circling the effigy, hung high above brush set aflame by football players.
“Light him up!” students chanted.
The figure, sporting a number 8 jersey, was supposed to depict a rival quarterback from Brownsboro. Before footage was scrubbed from the school’s social media page, people slammed the depiction as racist.
The school district in a lengthy statement denied such allegations, noting that the “Vandal Bonfire is a long-standing tradition in Van ISD that dates back to the 1940s.”
Senior students had run the event until someone was injured preparing for the bonfire in 2000. The district did away with the tradition until it was brought back in 2017, though staff have since taken over running the affair, according to the statement.
“After videos of the bonfire posted by the district on social media following the bonfire last night, comments arose in the thread accusing the district of racism,” the statement reads.
“Historically, the number on the player’s jersey at the top of the bonfire has always been the same number as the opposing team’s best player. This is by no means a racial issue and never has been.”
School officials added they understand how it could have been misinterpreted given “the current charged social political climates.”
Future bonfires will no longer single out specific players from opposing teams to avoid such issues moving forward, according to the statement.