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Student football player behind Center Grove blackface photo issues apology

The student said he has been working to educate himself about the history and meaning of blackface.

JOHNSON COUNTY, Indiana — The Center Grove student football player behind a blackface image that went viral has issued an apology.

The letter sent to 13News said the player is 15 years old and had not been "educated on blackface or the true meaning behind it."

Since then, the student said he has been working to educate himself about the history and meaning of blackface.

Now that I know the meaning, I would like to apologize to all I have offended, especially Popeye Williams. It was not directed towards him nor was it directed toward anyone.  I would like to personally apologize to Popeye for making him feel the way he did about it and I would also like to thank him for handling the situation with grace.  I would like to personally reach out to him and his family and apologize formally about the situation and maybe he can educate me more.

The letter goes on to say that the student has "never had any type of racial aggression or ill feeling toward any race."

13News confirmed the emailed letter came from the player's mother. She said he had written the letter himself. She asked that they stay anonymous since her child is a minor.

The photos, widely shared across social media, show the Center Grove player with his face and neck painted black, while flexing his arm with a drawing on his bicep. The photo was quickly labeled as the student being in blackface and allegedly mocking Popeye Williams, a player from Westfield Washington. 

Both schools issued a response to the incident.

Westfield Washington said it stands with Williams, his family, other families of color and anyone impacted by the blackface images.

"While we know that people make mistakes, we hope we can all use this opportunity to learn from our actions. WHS remains committed to standing up against racial discrimination, supporting our students of color, and promoting diversity and inclusion efforts in our school and community," said Alicia Denniston, principal of Westfield High School.

Center Grove issued a statement of its own to 13News saying it is "aware of an inappropriate post on social media." The district said it is investigating the incident and taking steps to "address it through the athletic department, coaching staff, and student discipline policy."

"This student’s actions do not represent the values of our athletic program, high school, or school community."

In a letter to families in Center Grove, the school said "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."

The district went on to apologize for the behavior and said it does not support the sportsmanship or values the school stands for.

Center Grove Principal Jeffry Henderson said he had been in contact with Westfield's principal and that he assured her Center Grove will not tolerate racism or harassment of any kind.

Center Grove said it would not be able to release any student discipline, if any, due to privacy restrictions.

Full letter from Center Grove student:

I have been wanting to reach out but was unsure of the best way to do so because of the media attention it has gotten.  I would like to start off by apologizing to all the people I have offended and hurt.  I had no racial or vulgar intention with this situation.  I was just a 15-year-old celebrating a win with my teammates and we were messing around on the bus with eye black.  Before this hit social media, none of us knew or had been educated on blackface or the true meaning behind it.  Since that time, I have been educating myself on the history and meaning of blackface and hopefully others involved in this situation have as well. Now that I know the meaning, I would like to apologize to all I have offended, especially Popeye Williams. It was not directed towards him nor was it directed toward anyone.  I would like to personally apologize to Popeye for making him feel the way he did about it and I would also like to thank him for handling the situation with grace.  I would like to personally reach out to him and his family and apologize formally about the situation and maybe he can educate me more.

In my life, I have never had any type of racial aggression or ill feeling toward any race.  I have always been a person to try and bring people together through joy and laughter.  Never have I purposely tried to put people down or make them feel different than anybody else. I have friends and family of many racial diversities and love and support them the same as anyone else.  I am always there if they need something.  I am sorry that it has come to this and social media has tried dividing all of us. I would like for this to impact and change others and myself so that we all support and love each other and have each other’s back no matter skin color, cultural or religious beliefs because together we are stronger, and we can make a change.  I believe in Popeye’s motto - #spreadlovenothate. 

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