Centennial student suspended over racially charged text message

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2009 - 7:05 PM

The boy also was kicked off Centennial High's football team after allegedly sending the text to a teammate. The two had played football together since eighth grade.

A white high school football player has been suspended from school and kicked off the team for allegedly sending a text message with a racial slur to a teammate.

The suspended Centennial High School student committed a severe violation of the school's student code of conduct, said Principal Tom Breuning, who did not name the student. Such a violation, he said, requires a minimum five-day out-of-school suspension.

The text's recipient, Michael Gilbreath II, who is black, said he was disturbed by the image, which showed a noose, a hangman's post and a sign that said "For sale: [N-word] swing set." He received it Monday night, the night of the team football banquet, which he didn't attend.

He said he did not recognize the telephone number, and asked who was messaging. The texter messaged back, telling him not to worry.

But Gilbreath did worry.

"I was very shocked. I couldn't believe what I was actually looking at," said Gilbreath, who showed his dad.

The boy's father was outraged. "This is a symbol of murder," the elder Gilbreath said. "When people see a noose, they think of slavery and murder."

He said he filed a report with the school liaison officer and is pressing criminal charges.

"I applaud the school for the action they've taken," the elder Gilbreath said, "but I do believe that stiffer consequences must be taken by authorities so this doesn't happen again. It's an educational moment right now for the school, for the young man, for the young man's family and for the community. If this is happening to our son, it's happening to other kids in the metro area."

Gilbreath's son said he doesn't think criminal charges are necessary. "I think that him being suspended and kicked off the team is punishment enough," he said.

He described the teammate who allegedly sent the text message as an acquaintance. The two have played football together since eighth grade.

Gilbreath's parents notified school officials about the message Tuesday morning. Later that day, the student called Gilbreath and apologized, saying he did not mean for the text message to be threatening or offensive, the senior Gilbreath said.

"I accepted his apology, but it doesn't excuse what he did," said Gilbreath, a junior running back for the Centennial High Cougars, who are in the state high school football playoffs.

At practice Wednesday, head coach Mike Watson talked to his players about the incident. He said he stressed that the boy who sent the message did a very inappropriate thing and now faces serious consequences. "I told them that's not what we're about and we're not going to tolerate it," he said.

Breuning said the student sent the same text message to another student at Centennial, saying he had sent it to Gilbreath. That student responded that it wasn't a very smart thing to do.

Breuning added that school officials have learned that the text message originated from another student in the St. Paul area. He declined to say which school that student attends, noting that they're still investigating.

The younger Gilbreath said that he's just trying to focus on what's ahead. "I'm not going to let this affect me and my teammates before we play Brainerd Friday night."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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