Just weeks after multiple schools said their athletic programs were boycotting all sporting events against New Prague Area Schools due to alleged racist taunts by fans in the stands, another incident at Wednesday's state hockey tournament game between New Prague and Hermantown has come under scrutiny.
During team introductions, New Prague students were caught TV cameras flashing the "Okay" hand sign, which has become increasingly co-opted in recent years by white supremacists.
New Prague Superintendent Tim Dittberner issued a statement to Bring Me The News saying it was two upper elementary students who were making the "Okay" symbol and weren't aware that the gesture is associated with white supremacy.
"Tonight at the boys state hockey tournament two New Prague upper elementary students made the 'ok' hand gesture. In addition to being the 'ok' hand gesture, it can be used to signify white supremacy. School administration addressed the situation immediately after they were made aware of the situation. When questioned, the students did not understand what the signal meant. They were mimicking something they saw at an earlier hockey game on the big screen. We have no reason to believe they knew it could signify white supremacy. While we know this is very upsetting to many, please be assured we feel confident that the students were not intending to send a message of white supremacy when they made the gesture."
The Minnesota State High School League issued a statement Thursday morning, saying league officials immediately contacted New Prague leaders who were at the Xcel Energy Center and the students were addressed.
"The students were unaware of this meaning," the MSHSL said, echoing Dittberner's comments. "New Prague took action to appropriately address this behavior with the students."
In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League added the symbol to its "Hate on Display" database. The ADL notes how the symbol has multiple meanings and "caution" is required when evaluating its use.
A common hand gesture that a 4chan trolling campaign claimed in 2017 had been appropriated as a symbol meaning "white power." Used by many on the right--not just extremists--for the purpose of trolling liberals, the symbol eventually came to be used by actual white supremacists as well. Caution must be used in evaluating instances of this symbol's use.
Prior to be adopted by white supremacists, the "Okay" symbol was and still is used for the "circle game," which is played by youth who try to trick someone into looking at the symbol. Anyone who looks gets punched in the arm. The Washington Post says the game was popularized by a 2000 episode of "Malcolm in the Middle."
The gestures made by the students at the state hockey tourney might not have attracted attention were it not for a series of racism complaints concerning New Prague High School in recent months.
In late February, Robbinsdale Area Schools decided its teams would stop taking part in any athletic events hosted by New Prague Schools "for the foreseeable future" after saying the Cooper girls' basketball team was subjected to racist taunts at a recent game.
The announcement was made by Superintendent David Engstrom and members of the district cabinet, in which they backed the Cooper High School players and staff who say they were subjected to monkey taunts by crowd members during a game at New Prague High School last week.
The same move was taken by St. Louis Park High School, after a similar racist incident at a game involving its boys' hockey team in which two New Prague players allegedly called one player "a monkey" and told him to "go back to the 1860s."
And during a ninth-grade basketball game between Benilde-St. Margaret's and New Prague, two girls in the stands reportedly referred to a Benilde player as a "monkey" as he shot free throws.
Dittberner told Bring Me The News that the incident involved the St. Louis Park hockey team was investigated and "appropriate consequences" were handed down.
The district also hired an outside organization to investigate other claims of racism at its sporting events, and earlier this month shared an initial three-step action plan to ensure New Prague Area Schools take "meaningful steps to changing our culture" so every student feels welcome."