College Sports

SLU baseball racial controversy stuns Wichita native Curtis Whitten

Derby outfielder Curtis Whitten is now a freshman outfielder for Saint Louis University, where controversy has arisen over a racially-charged private group chat.
Derby outfielder Curtis Whitten is now a freshman outfielder for Saint Louis University, where controversy has arisen over a racially-charged private group chat. File photo

When Saint Louis University freshman outfielder Curtis Whitten first heard the news about the looming controversy surrounding his team, his first reaction was shock.

And that was more than understandable – as the only African-American on SLU’s 32-man roster, the Wichita native had a tough time wrapping his head around the release of a private group chat that showed his teammates making racially-charged comments about President Obama.

“I was kind of astonished just with what I was seeing,” Whitten said. “Then I was really confused. … I guess I just kind of accepted it for what it was. The player who wrote that stuff showed remorse and apologized, but shocked was my initial reaction.”

In the group chat, from a team trip to Washington, D.C., last May, a discussion among the team’s pitchers about where to eat devolved quickly. The names of the players were redacted.

“The kfc in the White House?” one player wrote, with the following responses.

“They got rivers of the grape kind there.”

“I heard they got a colored running the country. ... This Tru?”

“Unfortunately … It is.”

“(Expletive) watermelon eatin baboon.”

The story was first reported by The University News, the Saint Louis student newspaper, on Thursday. It was picked up by the popular sports website Deadspin on Monday.

Whitten and his teammates were told about the context of the group chat last week before they left for a three-game series at Illinois.

Whitten, who graduated from Derby, has 25 at-bats this season in a reserve role for the Billikens, who are 16-21 headed into Tuesday’s home game against Southeast Missouri State.

“We were told as a group, and we met with our athletic director and our coaches, and they let it be known that this would never happen again and it had never happened before,” Whitten said. “It was a difficult situation. I know the guy who said it; he addressed the team and said that’s not his morals and not his values. He showed remorse, and I forgave him. Now we’re moving forward as a team and as teammates.”

SLU athletic director Chris May did not respond to a request for comment.

SLU dean of students Mona Hicks told The University News there would be no discipline recommended from the school after a bias-related incident report was filed last week by a former baseball team manager, who is African-American.

“If I were to directly state to you ‘You suck because of all your social identities that God gave you,’ that would be wrong. That would require some adjudication,” Hicks said last week. “We also need to respect laws. This was a private conversation, or at least the perception of a private (conversation) between in-group parties.”

The baseball team’s captains wrote a letter to The University News apologizing for the incident, and the team has agreed to participate in a “restorative justice” process, which brings together the two groups for a facilitated dialogue.

The timeline for that process has yet to be established.

Tony Adame: 316-268-6284, @t_adame

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