Lincoln High football coach stands by decision to forfeit Cathedral game
Lincoln High School football coach David Dunn doesn’t regret cancelling this Friday’s game against Cathedral High School and taking a forfeit loss.
In April, during the run-up to last year’s game, Cathedral High players circulated the racist statement “Cathedral vs Convicts” on social media. Dunn said playing this year’s game would be inappropriate because his players and the community still haven’t healed.
“I think in the end we will be able to move forward and work towards it, but you can’t put a timeline on healing,” said Dunn Wednesday during a virtual meeting of “Coaches for Racial Equality,” which included more than 60 coaches, parents and community members.
During the hour-long meeting, Coach Dunn said he looks forward to working with Cathedral coach Sean Doyle on repairing the harm and he acknowledged that Cathedral staff have reached out.
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Following last year’s actions by the Cathedral players, the San Diego City Conference, which governs San Diego high school athletics, suspended Doyle for two games and placed the Cathedral football team on a two year probation. A restorative education program was also mandated for Cathedral students and staff.
But Dunn, who participated in a restorative circle with Cathedral coaches and staff, didn’t feel the process was genuine nor did it include any of the Lincoln players.
“When we opened up early into this restorative circle, we didn’t come out of it the way we should have,” Dunn said. “We as coaching staff in the community here, we’re very shaken by it.”
The process made him remember how as a young Black athlete he was told that he might be called names and to deal with it. He doesn’t want to keep repeating that message to his players.
“We’ve grown to accept and just continue on, but that don’t make it okay,” he said.
In an interview with KPBS, Dunn says he will never forget after last year’s game between Cathedral and Lincoln getting a phone call from a mother concerned for her son’s mental health amidst all the racial tension at the game.
It’s why he decided to call off the game. There’s still too much anger and hurt. And even though in the past the message has always been “let them play,” he thinks there’s a better message moving forward that lets players choose themselves over the game.
”You can choose not to be involved in it and stand up to just say, no, I'm done with it,” he said. “We demand respect and to be treated with respect.”
The Coaches for Racial Equality meetings began last year at the height of the racial justice protests following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. They have become a space where coaches and parents can talk through the tensions that arise.
Several Cathedral High School parents attended on Wednesday in order to voice their thoughts on the issue.
Chris Smith, a Black Cathedral parent that’s heavily involved in high school athletics, says he respects Coach Dunn’s decision, but worries about the impact it’s having on Cathedral student athletes, especially students of color.
“I also have kids in our community, at Cathedral, that come home and ask their parents, ‘why is this black man calling me a racist?” said Smith. “These kids are hurting over at Cathedral, too, so I don't know if anybody's thought about that.”
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Cathedral High School officials did not respond to calls and emails from a KPBS reporter.
The pain expressed at Wednesday’s meeting was palpable. Many participants shared stories of the double standards schools in the Southeast like Lincoln High, which is predominantly Latino, Black and low income, feel playing against Cathedral High and other private North County schools.
“It’s not just a Lincoln and Cathedral issue, that’s the problem,” said Jeff Harper Harris, Lincoln basketball coach.
Harris founded the Coaches for Racial Equality and believes the conversation taking place right now extends beyond two high schools and football. San Diego remains racially and economically segregated and that’s what continues to show up in school athletics.
“It's the whole county, it’s south of eight versus north eight. That has been a major issue,” Harris said.
Dunn believes he and Doyle, who reached out to him on Thursday, can start to take the first steps towards healing. But for now, the Friday night lights won’t be shining until the healing comes.