By Mark Bryant | Special to The OBSERVER

Betty Williams, president of the Greater Sacramento NAACP, says the actions of local students “isn’t a specific district’s problem, it is every district’s problem.” Courtesy photo

The Greater Sacramento NAACP hosted a meeting Monday to further investigate the prank slave auction at River Valley High School in Yuba City.

A TikTok video recently surfaced showing three Black students in the school’s locker room being auctioned off as slaves in a prank staged by the school’s football players. School administrators suspended the team’s season in response.

Many in the greater Sacramento community are expressing outrage over the racist episode, including chapter President Betty Williams. “This isn’t a specific district’s problem, it is every district’s problem and every district’s responsibility to change,” said Williams, adding that the Black students were coerced into participating due to peer pressure.

“We know that many of the students who participated said ‘no’ initially,” Williams said. “A few said ‘no’ over and over until they finally wanted to just get it over with so they could get to practice on time. Several knew it didn’t feel right. At least one tried to walk out and was blocked.”

“When I looked at the video, I thought ‘Oh, my God.’ The Black students were being auctioned off as slaves. They had belts around their necks indicating that they had been, or were about to be, hung,” Williams said.

Three of the Black student athletes – two of whom said they were pressured into playing slaves in the “auction” – showed up at Monday night’s chapter meeting to explain what happened and apologize for their roles in the incident. 

One player, a junior named Marcos, expressed remorse. “Part of me knew it was wrong when it was happening and I didn’t have the courage to stop myself or my teammates, and I wish I would have,” he said. “I apologize to anyone who I may have hurt or offended, including my teammates, my family, and my community.”

Adrian, a sophomore, said he also felt apprehension in the heat of the moment.

“When the video was made, I was not feeling good about it and I just froze,” he said. “I just wanted to get it over with so I could go to practice.

“I understand the video was hurtful to people and I wish to apologize that I was part of it. I didn’t want the video to be posted. I did not want to do it. But looking back, I wish I had done more to stop it.”

However, he does not agree with the punishment levied by the school administration. “Being a part of the team and playing football is important to me. I am hurt that the school moved so quickly to punish us instead of taking the time to understand the situation a little better,” he said.

Alex, a senior, described his role in the video while adding he, too, was an unwilling participant.

“I was getting ready for football practice as usual, so I was in my underwear. They needed another person to be in the video, and being the only Black kid left in the locker room, they all turned to me. I had made it clear that I didn’t want to do it, and I tried to leave, but I wasn’t able to.”

“So to get them off my back and stop bugging me about it, I gave in to the peer pressure that I was facing at the moment. I had no idea that I was being recorded until afterwards. The other players and myself told the person not to post the video. He assured us that he wouldn’t. However, after practice, we came to find out that he did in fact post it without our consent.”

Students from Yuba City’s River Valley High School expressed their remorse for participating in the “slave auction.” Courtesy photo

Alex added that after the incident, he wanted to “take a step back and reflect. Now, I would like to apologize to everyone who was hurt or offended. I want to learn more about my culture and how I hurt the ones in my community.

“This video is harmful to the entire Black community who count on people like myself to stand against these wrongs rather than participating in them. I will work harder to become more like these people and help instead of hurting my culture and community.”

Dante Walters, father of Marcos and Adrian, said he wished he could have been there to prevent the incident.

“This was a lack of supervision, lack of safety issues,” Walters said. “When something of this magnitude happens, it speaks to the fact that the educators have a tough job. But where were the coaches, or any other adults? They were not present.”

Walters, who is also a longtime family friend of Alex and his parents, said that what the public has seen in the video and read does not define those involved.

“It is important to remember that while our children may possess the physical stature of grown men, they are in fact still children,” he said. “Children, even young adults, make mistakes, and this was a big one. Accountability for mistakes is important. So are environments that embrace restorative practices instead of condemning.”

All 12 students who appeared in the video face suspension. They were removed from the varsity football team. The team’s remaining players are not enough to field a squad, which ended the season after a month of play. River Valley was 0-5 before its season was halted.

Williams commended the three for coming forward. “They didn’t have to do this. This says the amount of character that these young men have,” she said.

“We are asking for change in our communities. It’s up to communities like Rocklin, Roseville, Granite Bay, Folsom, Vacaville, Elk Grove, Amador and Yuba City to create cultures of inclusion for people who have been the most historically excluded from society.”

Williams said she plans to meet with school officials to discuss sensitivity training, greater awareness of minority cultures and greater accountability. The NAACP has created a school discrimination survey.