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HALIFAX – Ten players on the football team at Saint Mary’s University have been suspended for making racist, sexist and homophobic tweets.
SMU spokesperson Steve Proctor said he does not anticipate any more suspensions.
However, the athletes are only suspended from the team, not from the school, and the official football season is over. The team’s last game was in November.
“There are no more games but there is certainly lots of football. There’s no spring football for them. They have to clean out their lockers. There’s no workouts with the team,” Proctor said.
The university became aware of the offensive tweets Monday, when a Kings Journalism School article was published.
“It’s very disappointing. It’s counter to all the values of the university. It underscores this culture exists within this university campus, within this city and the country. It underscores the need for us to change the culture,” Proctor said.
Mohammed Abdallah plays offense on the football team at Saint Mary’s University but he was on defense Tuesday as outrage intensified the online comments.
This is Abdallah’s first year on the team at SMU; he just transferred this past school year.
“A lot of the tweets put out, they’re young players, a lot of guys in their first year. They’re not experienced. They made a mistake. They feel really bad about it,” he told Global News.
“I heard a lot of it was song lyrics, other stuff too. Maybe they just weren’t thinking.”
Abdallah, who does not have a Twitter account, said it has been a tough lesson for the athletes.
“I’m apologizing for the tweets but again they’re young kids. They weren’t aware of their actions being brought out that way. They definitely learned from their mistake. They’re definitely taking the consequences. They’re definitely taking accountability for their tweets.”
When pressed on whether jock culture played a role in the tweets, Abdallah said no.
“I don’t think it was a jock culture. If you look around the tweets of university students, they tend to tweet things like that. The fact that we represent the school and football team, it shows we got to take a bit more responsibility. I understand why we’re being held accountable. I just think it was a mistake,” he said.
Some athletes took to Twitter to defend and explain themselves.
Many students on campus Tuesday said they did not think the players’ suspensions were sufficient punishment.
Martha Mutale said she was not surprised but disappointed nonetheless about the tweets. She thinks the school could have done a better job in reprimanding the students.
“If someone makes a mistake, they can’t get away with it because you’re sending the wrong message,” she said.
“If you make a mistake you have to be held accountable, it doesn’t matter how popular you are.”
Third year student Liyah Coles hopes people recognize it was the students, not the school, who made mistakes.
“I think the students should be expelled not suspended and perhaps that will show the general public that SMU takes it seriously instead of not,” she said.
She is concerned about the ripple effect this latest scandal will have on the school’s reputation.
“This university is on every single one of our resumes. It will impact every single one of us in the future.”
The scandal comes on the heels of a frosh week chant in the fall that encouraged the rape and sexual assault of young women.
The university said it had not been aware of the chant and quickly moved to compile a president’s report on the incident.
The report was released in December and the school said it was accepting all 20 recommendations on how to fix the culture of sexual violence on campus.
But Staci Simpson, coordinator at the SMU Women’s Centre, said it’s clear that there’s more work to do.
“It’s sad to say it’s part of jock culture and sexism and it’s deeply embedded in not just SMU athletics, it’s embedded in all universities,” she said.
“It’s a process that we do need to change but it will take time.”
Simpson said the university could consider sensitivity training for all students and athletes, similar to what frosh leaders involved in the chant had to undergo.
The students’ suspension could be extended into next year but that is a decision that will have to be made by the athletic director, who did not return our interview request.