Supporters of the Bellevue High School football team are hitting back after an independent investigation found facts about the program breaking recruiting rules.
A news release issued last week indicated that the investigators have found the football program's boosters club paid for football players to attend an alternative private school and that false addresses were used to make out-of-district players eligible for the team.
Now, parents and supporters of the team are saying that the investigation was flawed and racially biased.
Marisa Spooner LeDuff is the godmother and legal guardian of one of the Bellevue football players. She and her godson were questioned as part of the investigation. And she said the experience was dehumanizing.
"You just kind of feel bullied and marginalized," LeDuff said.
She said that her family felt harassed and she felt deeply sad for her godson.
"He consistently dealt with feelings of a foreshortened future for his football career and his time at Bellevue High School. In his last year, he should not have had to deal with what we had to deal with," she said.
LeDuff said that black students and families were targeted in the investigation and she feels that there was definite racial bias.
"They asked us things like how we could afford to live in Bellevue, how we could afford to drive cars, what type of work my husband did. Just things that pointed towards racial bias," she explained. "You go out to investigate and all you do is investigate the black kids, the black families. Where we come from, how we got here, why we're here, were we recruited here?"
LeDuff and her family moved to Bellevue for her husband's job. They have property in several areas of Washington state as well as in Idaho and Louisiana and they chose to send her godson to Bellevue High School because it has good academic and sports programs.
"Somebody must have helped us do this. There's just no way we could live in Bellevue, it's just far too expensive. That's the sense that we started to feel because by their questions,” Le Duff said.
LeDuff said the accusations leveled against the football club have not been substantiated by any facts she's seen. And the racist nature of the investigation is unacceptable, she said. "White people don't walk in our brown skin so many people think naturally or have a knee-jerk response that, ‘Oh, they're just playing the race card. This isn't the race card.”
She said it's been hard to watch her godson and other black players lose hope. “It’s just not right.”
The Bellevue School District has launched an internal investigation into complaints of harassment and intimidation during the investigation by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. A statement from the WIAA said that they take formal complaints seriously but they believe investigators adhered to protocols.
The WIAA also said that there was no racial motivation or bias in this investigation:
The Bellevue School District requested the fact finding investigate whether football players were using false addresses or receiving subsidized housing to gain eligibility. The fact finders identified 42 players who had transferred to Bellevue High School from outside the district since 2008. Given that a disproportionate number of players transferring to Bellevue High School were players of color, at least 35 whom were players of color, a disproportionate number of players of color were interviewed. The athletes identified for eligibility review was based on transfers to the Bellevue High School football team, and no other criteria.
The Bellevue School District has also said they do not believe racial bias was part of this investigation.
The full investigation has not yet been released to the public. Findings will be released by April 26.