CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice, who has been in controversy this week because of his use of the word “thugs” to describe a girls high school basketball team, said on Friday afternoon that he is sorry about his choice of words.
But Justice, a high school coach, went on to say that he does not regret being critical of behavior he saw on the basketball court during a heated rivalry game this week.
“There’s not a racial fiber in me that exists. I never thought in any way shape form or fashion that referring to the behavior that was going on as thugs was anything racial in any way. No chance on this planet,” Justice said in one of a series of interviews at the Governor’s Mansion.
“But I would say this — that if I would have thought it would have offended anybody whatsoever, I never would have used that term. I love all kids. I love the Beckley kids. I love all kids.”
Justice is not only the governor of West Virginia but also the coach of Greenbrier East High School’s girl’s basketball team. His controversial comments came after a chaotic situation during a game this week against rival Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley.
“They’re a bunch of thugs,” Justice said in a post-game interview. “The whole team left the bench, the coach is in a fight, they walked off the floor, they called the game.”
Justice’s use of the word, which can have racial connotations, drew criticism right away. Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, a Democrat from Huntington and one of few black West Virginia legislators, gave a floor speech saying he knew of no racist intent by Justice but suggesting the governor should have thought before speaking.
Woodrow Wilson has a 19 percent black and 72 percent white population. Two black men coach the Flying Lady Eagles team.
By Friday afternoon, Justice did individual interviews with some West Virginia television stations and MetroNews. The preface was clips of the game, which showed increasing intensity and mayhem.
The point of instigation was an apparent verbal confrontation between a Greenbrier East fan, who is biracial, and a Woodrow Wilson assistant coach, Gene Nabors, who is black.
Beckley’s Register-Herald newspaper posted video from the game on Friday afternoon.
Here’s a clip of the surveillance video from Tuesday’s game.
— Tyler Jackson (@TjackRH) February 14, 2020
Nabors walks across the court during a timeout, apparently to ask for assistance from school leaders. The fan follows him. Then another man identified by multiple people as Nabors’ son rapidly enters the picture.
At that point, police become involved. Nabors is pushed out of the frame and eventually winds up handcuffed. HIs lawyer, Randolph McGraw said Nabors was issued a citation and suffered a broken arm and injured back.
The Secondary Schools Activities Commission considered and then opted against suspending Nabors, who was a state champion as a Woodrow Wilson player and then went on to play college basketball.
His son, Donte Nabors, was cited for disorderly conduct and obstructing officers. Stephen Damon, a parent of a Greenbrier East player, was also cited for disorderly conduct.
Several Woodrow Wilson players were suspended for two games after leaving the bench, which was right where the chaos was unfolding.
Brian Nabors, the Woodrow Wilson head coach and Gene’s brother, spoke about the situation on Thursday evening with Fred Persinger II of West Virginia Radio.
“The bottom line is, our girls were concerned about their coach — about his safety because he was pushed down very, very hard and it was very unfortunate that took place,” Nabors said.
“The rules say if you leave the bench you get suspended. And our kids didn’t leave the bench to go attend the so-called altercation because it wasn’t an altercation. Coach Gene was pushed down. He did not put his hands on an officer. We’ll leave it at that.”
Justice, speaking Friday afternoon from the Governor’s Mansion, said he had no regrets about calling out what he saw as poor behavior.
“The net of the whole thing from my side is we have focused on a word and we have deflected completely away from looking at what happened. The behavior of what’s going on is hurting our children.
“Now say what you want. There has to be an adult in the room and somebody to stand up for the kids. And I’m going to stand up for the kids.”
Asked then about the weight carried by the governor’s words, Justice again said he felt obligated to call out behavior.
“From the standpoint of the governor and the coach together, I think it would have been a shame to have walked off and said ‘Well, I just hate the way things worked out tonight and we’ll just let the SSAC or whoever attend to it,'” he said.
“Because I should stand up whether I be the governor, I just be Jim Justice, I be the coach — no matter what I should stand up for our kids. I should. This kind of behavior hurt the Beckley kids. It hurt us all. I should stand up for that and condemn it. Because I don’t want that. I don’t want that in any way, shape, form or fashion.”