GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 28, 2012

Gloucester High School students part of racist hockey Twitter barrage

By Steven Fletcher
Staff Writer

Almost immediately after the Washington Capitals' Joel Ward scored the winning goal in overtime of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night, a firestorm of racist epithets broke out on Twitter, targeting one of hockey's few black players.

Those racist "tweets" have sparked widespread outrage, and a firestorm of their own. Now, Gloucester school officials are wrestling with the fact that at least five of the racist messages were posted by Gloucester High School students, including at least three student-athletes.

"Like many districts and communities, we received word that individual students might have been involved in making inappropriate remarks online following the hockey game," Superintendent Richard Safier said Friday in a prepared statement to the Times. "We are conducting a full investigation and will consider whether disciplinary action is warranted, and whether the schools have jurisdiction.

"Second," Safier added, "we will implement a strong educational component that looks at the social, moral, and legal aspects of such remarks."

The Times found at least three Gloucester students had posted racist remarks, though two had deleted their accounts after the incident.

An e-mail received by the Times on Thursday — the day after the game — noted that a Gloucester High student-athlete posting from the account Devin_@GeraldHart635, had posted, "Of all the people to score, it had to be the N —."

The post used the full word, not dashes.

The Times confirmed Friday that the handle is not, in any way, used by Gloucester High assistant football coach and former head coach Gerald Hart. The Times attempted to approach the student who allegedly made the post; the athlete, who also plays football and basketball, was dressed with the team but did not play in Friday's baseball game. But Gloucester High baseball coach Joe Orlando said he did not want the student to talk without having his parents there. His parents were not at Friday's game — and did not return a call seeking comment.

The student's remark was picked up and distributed across the Internet by the social media aggregator Chirpstory, in a list titled "Bruins Fans call Joel Ward the N-word."

Comments on Twitter aren't like text messages, which can be private and sent to individual phones or other devices. Anything posted on Twitter is public, and available for viewing and, or response to anyone on the site.

The Gloucester students' remarks provoked a strong reaction from other people around the country with Twitter handles, a look by the Times confirmed Friday night.

A man using the Twitter handle kurtbradwill from Washington State wrote that he sent a letter to the students' administration. Bradwill, who couldn't be reached for comment on this story, called out the GeraldHart635 user, along with those with the handles Glidden24, OwenParisi, and Ryan_Smith11 — all users from Gloucester — for their alleged comments as well. Their initial tweets targeting Ward had been taken down as of Friday.

Gloucester officials and students aren't the only ones across New England and the nation at large looking into the sources of the racist remarks, according to media reports.

The Cumberland, R.I., School District and Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire were also looking Friday to take action against students there identified as sending out blatantly racist posts, many also laced with obscenities.

Times Sports Editor Nick Curcuru also contributed to this story. Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.