GRAND BLANC, Mich. (WJRT) - The Flint Jewish Federation's top leader hopes offensive images and messages in an online group chat with some Grand Blanc High School football players lead to a teachable moment.
Some of the messages in a private Snapchat group included images of players making Hitler salutes, adding a Hitler moustache to photos and wearing KKK hoods.
A cheerleader also appeared in a separate photograph wearing hat with a derogatory term directed at President Joe Biden at a football game.
A statement from Grand Blanc Community Schools issued Thursday called the messages "an effort a 'humor' amongst a diverse group of friends."
Steven Low, executive director of the Flint Jewish group, was saddened by revelations about the messages and said the situation is no laughing matter.
"I lost family in the Holocaust. There are entire villages wiped out. We've heard about the horrors of Emmett Till and the lynchings and how people got off," Low said. "How can you possibly think that there's anything humorous about that?"
Grand Blanc Community Schools issued a statement Thursday, saying the players' behavior was inappropriate and insensitive. The athletes will face unspecified discipline based on violations of school and athletics codes of conduct.
"Fifteen million people were killed in the Holocaust and we certainly know what happened to our African American community here in this country throughout the centuries," Low said.
Hitler rose to power in Germany in the 1930s on a platform of eradication of Jews and the superiority of what he called the Aryan race. Nazi Germany was responsible for overseeing the mass murder of millions of Jews, as well as ethnic minorities.
"My father fled the Holocaust when he was 15 and I'm one of the lucky ones. My aunt and my uncle also made it out," Low said. "But I have seen too many people who became numbers and had the numbers tattooed on their arms."
Revelations of messages in the Grand Blanc football players' group chat stirred up painful memories for Low. He was sad and disappointed to see student athletes using dark times in history as a joke.
While Low said it's nothing to laugh at, he's hoping this could be a teachable moment for parents, students and school leaders.
"If you can make light of this, are you going to use humor to excuse the further consequences," Low said. "This trivialization of hate and bigotry, and that really using humor in this way is kind of a form of bullying, isn't it?"
He believes education and conversation are key in this situation. Low is willing to pay for students and their parents to visit the Holocaust Museum in the Detroit area.
Carolyn Normandin, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Michigan, also released a statement about the rise in hateful incidents. It reads in part:
- "It is sobering to see the rise of hateful incidents in communities across our state and across our country. We see a general divisiveness that is not specific to any one community or school. The proliferation of online hate fractures the ability for people to have civil discourse and allows people of all ages to hide behind anonymity with deeply troubling and offensive content. Statistics are sobering; but we must not let the complexity of our current climate paralyze us. We must work to ameliorate bias and bigotry and that takes many people working together."
Normandin said ADL Michigan reached out to Grand Blanc Community Schools to continue a partnership and guide the next steps after the football players' incident.