Saint Louis University baseball players who called Barack Obama a 'baboon' escape punishment
U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A number of Saint Louis University baseball players who made racist remarks about President Obama in a group text message will not be formally punished, because university administrators decided it was a private conversation and could not be seen as a bias incident.

During a trip to Washington last year, a conversation between SLU pitchers about where to eat turned into a deeply offensive discussion about the president.

“The KFC in the White House?” one player wrote. Another player added: “They got rivers of the grape kind there.” Another wrote: “I heard they got a colored running the country … this tru?” while another described Obama as “a fucking watermelon eating baboon”.

One player took a screengrab of the group chat and sent it to his roommate, Brenden Twomey, a senior at SLU and a former manager of the baseball team. Twomey, who is black, saw the message, but he kept it to himself for almost a year.

“When I received that screenshot, obviously I knew it was wrong, but I was in a tough situation because I didn’t want to necessarily hurt anybody,” said Twomey.

But in April this year, Twomey’s girlfriend filed a formal bias incident report with the university. She also included an unredacted version of the screenshot.

Last week, the screenshot went public. A redacted version was posted to Facebook by the incoming president of SLU’s Black Student Alliance, Jonathan Pulphus. “What kind of value-driven campus is this where people think they can represent the university and spew this awful hatred?” Pulphus wrote.

But after an investigation, SLU administrators decided they couldn’t punish the students involved, because they had been sent within a private group chat, rather than directed at one person.

Dr Mona Hicks, SLU’s dean of students, said it was a difficult issue to adjudicate on. “If I were to directly state to you, ‘you suck because of all of your social identities that God gave you’, that would be wrong,” she said. “That would require some adjudication.

“We also need to respect laws. This was a private conversation, or at least the perception of private between in-group parties.”

Saint Louis University is a private Jesuit college in St Louis, Missouri. About 13,000 students attend the school.

The baseball team said it had volunteered to take part in a “facilitated dialogue” to discuss the issues raised. And the team’s four captains wrote a letter to the student newspaper, apologizing for their teammates’ remarks.

“The leaders and captains of the team would like to extend an apology to anyone offended by the bias messages,” the letter read. “We, too, are frustrated and feel that the comments do not accurately reflect the values that we hold.”

Twomey said that after the image of the conversation went public, tobacco spit had been splashed outside his door, and nail clippings left on the cloth he uses to clean his glasses. His roommate was identified as a member of the baseball team, the one who had sent him the image in the first place last year.

Twomey said: “I consider this retaliation for filing a bias incident report.”

The team’s coach, Darin Hendrickson, did not respond to a request for comment from the Riverfront Times on Friday. © Guardian News and Media 2016