Less than three weeks after the superintendent of schools suspended several students from Gloucester's athletic teams for posting racist messages on Twitter about a black professional hockey player, at least two of the student-athletes are back with their spring sports teams and have represented the Gloucester HigH School in games this week.
Superintendent Richard Safier announced May 4 that the students who posted messages in a racist, nationwide Twitter.com broadside targeting Joel Ward, the Washington Capitals' forward whose Game 7, overtime goal eliminated the Boston Bruins from Stanley Cup contention in April, would face loss of participation in a sport for a "considerable length of time."
The district also removed some of those students from leadership positions in extracurricular activities, in addition to promising an educational program they would be required to attend.
Yet, junior Devin Hemeon returned to the state tournament-bound Gloucester High baseball team and played in its game Wednesday night against Danvers, while lacrosse defenseman and hockey goaltender Jesse Glidden, also a junior, played in his team's final game Wednesday against Manchester Essex Regional High School.
Hemeon was the Twitter poster who posted from devin_GeraldHart635 and targeted Ward using the "N"word and "tweeting" that "the only thing that is black and should be aloud (sic) in a rink, is the puck ... that's it." Glidden "re-tweeted" those comments at the Glidden24 account.
Safier, who did not refer to any of the student-athletes by name, told the Times Thursday might that the players' return has come after appeals.
"There have been challenges that involved attorneys," Safier said, "and, based upon legal counsel, I approved a slight reduction in playing time; otherwise there have been no changes."
The - reduction, Safier said, amounts to about a 7 percent reduction in playing time. He said he made the change after receiving appeals. He had described the remarks in early May as "profoundly disturbing," and an incident that the district was taking "very seriously."
Other consequences, including an educational program that looks at the issue of diversity through the lenses of personal and environmental awareness, skill building etc. remain intact, Safier said. Those would included the forfeiture of "leadership opportunities." Hemeon had been in line to captain next fall's Gloucester High football team.
Safier said the district would review the school's history curriculum and the extent to which it covers the history of race in America. That program, said School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope, hasn't come in front of the committee, but doesn't need its approval unless it requires additional resources.
Tweets from five Gloucester students fell into a nationwide firestorm of similar racist messages. According to tweets sent and later identified by the Times, Gloucester students using the handles devin_GeraldHart635, Glidden24, OwenParisi, Steven_Cardone and Ryan_Smith11 all sent out a number of racist comments. Those comments no longer appear on Twitter. Twitter posts, unlike text messages sent to individual cell phones, appear on the Internet for all to view, reply, and — in many cases — easily access the poster's profile and identify him or her and their locations.
In this case, the students' comments were also picked up and posted by a number of other sites, including the popular Deadspin.com.
The GeraldHart account is not in any way affiliated with assistant coach Gerald Hart.
The day after the posts, Hemeon, from the devin_GeraldHart635 user, posted an apology for the remarks.
"Dear Followers and Twitter World," he wrote. "I am very sorry to make such a ignorant, racist comment. It was a very stupid, dumb mistake."
Also, local father Jim Smith posted a letter in the Times apologizing on behalf of his son for the incident. In the letter, drawn from a meeting with school officials, the younger Smith expressed sorrow for his lack of judgment and said he was embarrassed by it.
"I said tasteless and vulgar things, and I would like to say that I think I'm speaking for all involved, that I am by no means racist, nor do I truly believe in any of the comments I made," the letter said. "What I and the others involved thought to be a joke was a careless and utterly stupid mistake.
"We did not realize at the time that our tweets could be seen by people all over the country, and therefore offend others who read our obscene words all over the country."
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at email@example.com.
Nick Curcuru can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3444, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.