CLARK, N.J. – A puppet created for a school project in New Jersey created a big controversy after it offended members of a visiting basketball team who thought it depicted the lynching of a black man.
Plainfield, New Jersey parent Andre Payton posted a picture of the puppet to Facebook on Saturday and alleged it was “a clear message of hate and racism!!!!”
The puppet looked like a black basketball player with a white and blue striped uniform hanging from a coat rack by a string wrapped around its neck.
“So this is what our girls basketball team from plainfield high school (sic) had to see in the classroom where they was (sic) getting changed for the game,” Payton wrote in the post. “This was deliberately done and an act of racism at Arthur L Johnson in Clark NJ share and get it out. (sic) And FYI our coach said there was other dolls/muppets in the room but this particular one had a string around the neck with a basketball on top so I wouldn’t call this an indirect message this is a clear message of hate and racism!!!!(sic)”
The post generated more than 1,142 shares and hundreds of comments over the weekend, many blaming the incident on President-elect Donald Trump.
“This is horrific,” Sage Jacobs posted. “Now all the trash of society due to the new President to think it’s OK to be a bigot and a scum of the earth.”
Payton apparently did bother to discuss the incident with officials at Johnson High School or attempt to contact the teacher who oversees the classroom before launching into her accusations of racism. Of course, others posted a picture of the allegedly racist puppet attack as well, some invoking quotes from defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to spread the message.
“When other go low (sic), we must continue to go high! Racism is alive and well,” Terence Johnson posted on the Facebook page The Buzz In and Around Plainfield, New Jersey. “PHS girls bball team found this in the locker at they game (sic) today at A.L Johnson in Clark!”
Johnson is the announcer for Plainfield’s home games and director of the AAU basketball team that several of the Plainfield High Schools play for. Johnson told Tap into Clark Plainfield coach Keshon Bennett handled the “racist” situation correctly.
“He did the right thing in my book by playing and making sure the girls were back on the bus safely without causing a scene,” Johnson said. “You can’t fight evil with evil, ignorance with ignorance … I could tell from the first game of the season that we hired the right coach, and with his actions today of taking the high road to ensure the safety of our Plainfield girls without flipping out shows he is good for the Plainfield community.”
The outrage prompted a response from Clark Superintendent Edward Grande, who confirmed the Plainfield team changed in the school’s puppetry room, and vowed to “investigate this matter” and “take remedial action as necessary.”
Plainfield Superintendent Anna Belin-Plyes also issued a statement about the alleged intolerant puppet and promised the situation would be “thoroughly and comprehensively investigated with the seriousness it deserves,” NJ.com reports.
But before school officials even had an opportunity to conduct a full investigation, a parent of one student in the puppetry program wrote in to the news site to set the record straight. The puppet wasn’t a black lynching or an intolerant act of racism, she wrote in a Facebook message to NJ.com.
It was supposed to be basketball superstar LeBron James, and the visiting team jumped to conclusions, she wrote.
Students in the class were tasked with creating a puppet of a famous person, and one student chose his basketball idol, said the mother, who did not want to be identified.
It was strung up on the coat rack for safekeeping.
“The puppets must be modeled after a famous person. The child who made the puppet in question chose a famous basketball player,” the mother wrote. “He also crafted a basketball and sewed it to the hand and let it dangle. My son also told me that the kid may have chosen to let it dangle OR is still in the process of sewing it to the hand and the needle is in the ball. Because the string is dangling, it was wrapped around, up and over the wooden holder. It was in no means meant to be anything more than that.”
The mother said she felt “truly sorry” the innocent puppet project caused such a controversy.
“I would hate for them, or anyone, to feel targeted and hurt,” she wrote. “I also feel sorry for the boy who made a puppet of his favorite player, draped the basketball string around it to keep it safe, and now has to face this outrage.”