BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (Christian Examiner) – A football player was recently thrown off the field after suggesting another player should be given a banana, a well-known source of potassium, for leg cramps.
On Oct. 20, Jay Cooke, a senior at Bloomfield Hills High School (BHHS), shouted out, "Get that boy a banana!" when an African-American player on the opposite team was stricken with a leg cramp.
The opposing coach took offense at what he perceived as a racist remark, which was also overheard by a school administrator of Cooke's. Consequently, Cooke was suspended from appearing at sporting events, including playing in his final game.
Cooke's classmates and other community members are convinced Cooke's comment was not racist and the suspension was a misunderstanding. A student angry with the school's decision launched an online petition signed by more than 2,000.
"We know Jay for too long to know he wouldn't say something like that, for it to come out racist," Cooke's classmate Kip Martin told FOX 2 in an interview.
Responding to a question about whether he believed the comment was racist, Martin answered, "No, because it [muscle cramp] happens to athletes all of the time on the football team."
Martin thinks Cooke was being literal. "If you catch a cramp, one way to get potassium in your system is to eat a banana—he didn't make a racist tone at all."
Others agree. "I'm signing because I strongly believe bananas are an excellent source of potassium. #FreeJay," wrote a supporter of the petition. People writing other comments called Cooke respectful and kind.
Cooke has since apologized to the player and his high school. While maintaining that he did not intend the comment to be derogatory, he asked for the suspension to be lifted while he accepted alternative discipline.
"First and foremost I would like to sincerely apologize for my remarks at the soccer game the other night," Cooke wrote on Oct. 23 in an update to the online petition.
"In no way was it meant to be racist or condescending," he said. "However, I realize that my words were hurtful and I cannot express how sorry I am that it was seen this way. I was in no way trying to be racist and I hope that those who perceived it as such can forgive me for this."
Cooke was horrified to learn that his words were construed as racist but understands how others might have perceived his remark that way. He appealed the school's decision on the basis of his innocent intention, but acknowledges "regardless of my intent I do feel that I am at fault and deserving of this discipline."
He was allowed to play in his final game, but not to attend any other sporting events for the rest of the year. "In no way should this be a celebration," he said about being allowed to play.
HIGH SCHOOL CRITICIZED
Instead, BHHS has received criticism in the petition comments for unfairly overreacting to Cooke's words. Students think the school was unfairly zealous in punishing Cooke's supposedly racist comment because of an earlier incident in which boys made a video threatening an African-American student and calling him a hateful, racist term, Fox reported.
"I just think the school is very nervous and anxious because there has been a lot of suspect things going on here that have been racist," Martin explained. "They are just trying to handle it as best as possible [but] I don't think it's right."
Cooke has accepted detention and will attend "multiple global leadership training workshops" to ensure that he will not make any other comments that carry any racial overtones.
In his message, Cooke thanks friends for their support but says he wants to move on.
Comments on the petition website affirm Cooke's reputation, indicating him as an unlikely person to make racist remarks.
"I just keep hearing the comment and what he said I don't think it was racist at all just knowing him," said student Devon Lynch to Fox. "I feel like if they knew the type of guy he was they would understand too."