JOHNSON COUNTY — Center Grove Schools officials say students may face disciplinary actions after a photo of a student-athlete in blackface went viral on social media after the football team's Class 6A championship win Saturday night.
"As you may be aware, photos circulating on social media are overshadowing the hard work put forth by both Center Grove’s and Westfield’s football programs in Saturday night’s state championship," Center Grove High School Principal Jeffry M. Henderson said in an email to parents Monday.
"On behalf of Center Grove High School and our Athletic Program, I apologize for this behavior. We expect better and will work hard to ensure that this type of incident never happens again."
A photo circulating on social media and apparently taken on Center Grove's team bus after Saturday's 27-21 win over Westfield High School shows a white student whose entire face is covered in black makeup. The boy in blackface is pictured flexing his right bicep while wearing a red football jersey and knit cap with Center Grove's initials "CG."
Popeye Williams, one of state's best high school players and a star defensive back for Westfield, reacted to the picture in an Instagram story that was later shared by his father, Bo Williams, on Facebook.
"So a lot of you don't know they were imitating me," Popeye Williams wrote. "This game comes with trash talking and physicality but never does it come with those actions."
Instead of lashing out, Williams called for unity using the hashtag: #SpreadLoveNotHate.
"I want nothing but the best for those players and for them to be successful in life," Popeye wrote.
WRTV has left messages with Popeye Williams and his father seeking comment.
Center Grove officials are still investigating the incident but the student handbook says bullying, harassment, intimidation, racial slurs and derogatory language may result in suspension or expulsion. Student discipline is confidential, under state law.
Henderson said he spoke with Westfield's principal to assure her that "Center Grove will not tolerate racism or harassment of any kind."
"We all must recognize the impact our words, photos and actions can have on others," Henderson said. "As a school community, we must all work together to unite and not divide.
On Thursday, former Indianapolis Colts player Robert Mathis tweeted support for his nephew Popeye Williams.
"Very proud of nephew (Popeye Williams) for being extremely mature and displaying integrity during this time," Mathis said, "but we still request a sit down with the Center Grove High School head coach."