During the weekend before finals I decided to take break from my studies to relax and watch television for a few minutes. As I was flipping though the channels an interesting story popped up on CNN so I decided to watch it. According to the news reports over a dozen female basketball players at a western New York High School were suspended for chanting racial slurs in their warm-up routine. This racist chant was a tradition for this basketball team. It had been done for years and only became known to the public when an African American girl on the team, Tyra Batts, started to brawl a fellow teammate for the use of the highly offensive racial slur “n-word.” I started to think of John Stuart Mill’s philosophies, and if he would agree with the schools decision to suspend the girls. After a few minutes of contemplation, I decided that John Stuart Mill would agree with the schools actions. In most case scenarios Mill would argue in favor of a person or a group of people being allowed to speak freely and openly. However, in this situation where the girls basketball team was chanting racial slurs, Mills would argue the opposite. Furthermore, he would argue that while freedom of thought is absolute, there should be restrictions of this freedom when speech is hurtful and demeaning. Expressions of opinion and feeling can largely affect others and therefore may also harm them. Even if the girls were not trying to cause harm to others, they did regardless of what their intentions were. Racism is wrong, extremely offensive, and should not be tolerated on any level. Since the girl’s actions caused emotional harm to others (Tyra Batts and the entire African-American community), Mill would uphold the actions taken by the School Board.
The Kenmore-Town of Towanda school district, the High School where these events occurred, launched an investigation against these girls. The Board of Directors found the basketball players guilty of violating the schools conduct code and extra curricular athletic code. Therefore, the principal of the High School made the executive decision to not only suspend the girls from school for two days, but also forced them to attend cultural sensitivity training sessions and miss a game of their basketball season. He was most likely trying to make an example out of these girls to show that racism is not tolerated. Racism is hateful and ugly; it only causes emotional harm to others and hampers the overall progression of society. Finally, Mill stated “ opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act.” Essentially he was saying that opinions lose their value and freedom if they lead to ill-behaved actions. This is exactly what happened in the case of the girls chanting racial slurs. It led to outright violence and retaliation by Batts in response to the hateful and abusive remarks by her teammates. This entire situation could have been completely avoided if the girls had not expressed their racist chant. It did absolutely nothing to better them and only hurt others. Overall, the girl’s basketball team should not be allowed to continue their traditional chants no matter what the circumstances are.
So I ask you, did the punishment fit the crime? Should the girls have been subject to a more severe punishment or one that is less harsh?