MIKE MASTERSON: Nothing racial intended

Caw confession

Posted: January 23, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

W.J. "Shorty" Ozier of Harrison made some front-page headlines the other day after publicly confessing he was the person making controversial crow calls during the recent basketball game between the North Arkansas College Pioneers and Labette Community College of Parsons, Kan.

And, despite what two on the Labette team believe, he insists there was nothing racial about them.

The popular 88-year-old Ozier, for decades an avid Northark fan, said he's given crow calls for years to communicate with friends across crowded gymnasiums and during games to tease all opposing players at the free throw line.

Yet he's never considered his familiar "cawings" to be about the color of a player's skin.

Certain his latest calls are behind the recent news stories that imply those actions are racist, Shorty says he's apologetic and forever finished with crow callings.

He explained his laments to college president Randy Esters the other day while also pleading in the Harrison Daily Times with friends and other Northark supporters not to overreact to his actions by crow-calling themselves during future games as a means of supporting him. "Let this die," he's quoted as saying.

Among other criticisms, Ozier's crow calls clearly were interpreted by some as racially charged references to Deep South Jim Crow laws promoting segregation during the civil rights era.

In his mea culpa, Shorty claimed he didn't even know what Jim Crow laws were, explaining he's been giving his familiar crow call for three decades, along with his late friend, Jimmy Ply. "There was no racist thought to it," he told reporter James L. White of the Times.

The paper published two stories about the Labette incident on Saturday's front page.

The flap arose after a reporter for the Parsons Sun newspaper reviewed a video of the game showing the crow calls and other supposed "monkey noises" coming from some in the stands. That story circulated across the region, thereby casting Harrison in yet another negative light regarding race relations. The newspaper didn't publish the video on its website.

The news accounts prompted Ozier to step forward and take responsibility while publicly explaining his calls were only a matter of him doing what he's done for years, a kind of trademark of his within the community.

In 2018 America even an old man's crow calls during a basketball game can generate widespread headlines.

Northark's Esters described Ozier as a "nice older man and fan who felt terrible about how his actions were misconstrued and their negative effect on the college. I am certain he's neither a racist or that he intended his calls to be considered racist."

In the Times' companion front-page story, Esters added that, although his internal investigation proved inconclusive of racist behaviors by others (later alleged on social media by an assistant Labette coach and one female player), he's asked the National Junior College Athletics Association to conduct a third-party investigation into those allegations.

As I wrote in my Saturday online-only column, Esters said he received no complaints from Labette's coaching staff, that school's administration or anyone else from that college after the game in Harrison. Esters' efforts in pursuing the matter stem from his desire to learn what really happened. "I want to take every step possible to determine what went on," Easters said. "Northark won't ever tolerate that sort of thing, nor will I. We need to know the truth."

He added the college will support whatever the investigation discovers and offer an apology, if needed.

"This is such an unfortunate situation and we're saddened by the thought anyone would feel unwelcome on our campus," said Esters. "We've been making proactive plans to make sure everyone feels welcome."

Nearly half of Northark's men's basketball team is nonwhite and the women's team about one-fourth nonwhite, he said. The college student body of about 1,500 is 12 percent nonwhite.

Northark also has hosted major national junior college basketball tournaments in recent years without any racial incidents or allegations. In fact, the NJCAA Division II National Basketball Tournament is scheduled there in March for the second year in a row.

Why ever permitted?

I'm interested to see how the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) can adequately explain how in 2012 it so quickly, quietly and wrongheadedly granted a general operating permit to C&H Hog Farms in the sensitive Buffalo National River watershed without insisting on extensive geologic and groundwater flow studies in such karst-riddled terrain.

Why didn't it strictly then follow its own manual's requirements for licensing such a large concentrated animal feeding operation before even considering such a misguided permit? Were certain members of that politicized agency perhaps doing a favor?

If I were the agency's director, I'd be asking every staff member and whoever approved the original permit in such an inappropriate location some pointed questions.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 01/23/2018