Cathedral Catholic apologizes for football players’ racist photos aimed at Lincoln High

 A Cathedral Catholic High player runs for a touchdown against Lincoln in Friday's 41-0 victory.
A Cathedral Catholic High School football player runs for a touchdown against Lincoln High in Friday’s 41-0 victory.
(Josh DaFoe)

One photo shows someone wearing a T-shirt that says “Catholics vs. Convicts III,” another shows Cathedral players making a gang sign


Cathedral Catholic High School apologized Wednesday, April 14, after football players circulated and posed in offensive photos aimed at Lincoln High School, whom Cathedral defeated in a football game last Friday, April 9.

One social media post created by a Cathedral Catholic player had a photo of somebody wearing a shirt that read “Catholics vs. Convicts III” with the caption “We run the city” typed onto the photo.

A different photo of the Cathedral Catholic football team also generated controversy: the photo appears to show several players posing and making upside-down L’s with their hands, a reference to a gang sign that indicates an enemy.

Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, said the social media post was a “stupid thing to do” and that Cathedral Catholic administrators have reached out to Lincoln to apologize.

“This was dumb,” Eckery said. “This was not how you’re supposed to conduct yourself, period ... Bottom line is that this is an unacceptable way to communicate.”

Cathedral Catholic Principal Kevin Calkins also condemned the photos as racist in a letter to families and said his school unreservedly apologizes “for the poor judgment shown by the students who posed for and posted the racist photos.

“High school sports is supposed to be about having fun, building character and sportsmanship, and learning how to work together as a team,” Calkins wrote. “This weekend, certain members of the Cathedral Catholic football team and others in the Cathedral Catholic community did the exact opposite, showing both poor character and bad sportsmanship by posting and reposting two different social media posts with blatant racist overtones aimed at the Lincoln High School community.”

Calkins wrote that he would not give details on student discipline, but “we have to own and atone for the wrong” done to the Lincoln High community.

In a letter to families Wednesday, April 14, Lincoln Principal Stephanie Brown said her school administration is investigating the two photos.

“Despite the unfair treatment of our students and coaches, our school maintained positive sportsmanship, maturity and professionalism,” Brown wrote.

The phrase “Catholics vs. Convicts” was a popular but controversial slogan in the late 1980s that Notre Dame University students coined for a t-shirt amid a fierce football rivalry with the University of Miami. The rivalry culminated in a 1988 game during which Notre Dame upset Miami 31-30, a game later spotlighted in a 2016 ESPN documentary called “Catholics vs. Convicts.”

The Notre Dame students called the Miami team “convicts” because of the team’s “rule-breaking image,” compared to Notre Dame’s preppy, “clean-cut” image, according to SB Nation.

The use of the word “convicts” in that football rivalry was already controversial in Miami; now it has created controversy in San Diego.

Cathedral Catholic High is a private school located in Carmel Valley that enrolls about 1,600 students and charges $20,000 annual tuition, although 35 percent of its students receive financial aid.

Lincoln, a San Diego Unified school, is located in southeastern San Diego and enrolls about 1,400 students, 87 percent of whom are from low-income families. About 18 percent of Lincoln students are Black and 71 percent are Hispanic.

Referring to Lincoln football players — most of whom are Black — as convicts offended Lincoln Coach David Dunn.

“All we want is to be treated fair and right, but it’s an uphill battle,” Dunn said in an interview. “We are not gang members, thugs and convicts. My kids are the members of the Lincoln High football team, a team that has posted a 3.0 grade point average each of the last 10 years.”

This is not the first time Lincoln students have been subjected to racism around sporting events. In fall 2019, Lincoln students, including its cheerleaders, were subjected to racial slurs at a football game in Orange County with San Clemente High.

“This is nonsense,” Dunn said of the Cathedral Catholic photos. “Why can’t we be viewed as a high school program? We fight this stigma based on our skin color and the area in which we grew up.”

Jeff Harper-Harris, head basketball coach for Lincoln who brought attention to the Catholics vs. Convicts photo on social media, questioned why other people have such a negative perception of Lincoln, when Lincoln students earn scholarships and have gone on to prestigious colleges.

“Our Lincoln kids get scholarships and are very successful. I’m tired of the negative that our kids get not only from Lincoln, but Southeast as well,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Michael Brunker, who retired from the YMCA in January after more than 22 years and is now CEO of The Third Option City, said he could not believe it when he saw the social media post.

“While some may have thought this was a joke ... any time you place a dishonorable label on somebody, it doesn’t feel good,” said Brunker, who is also a member of the Union-Tribune’s Community Advisory Board.

He said he hopes this will become an opportunity to “bring young people together and talk about how can we build a beloved community.”

Harper-Harris has been involved in biweekly meetings of high school coaches in Southern California about racial equity. He said he doesn’t want the fallout from the post to be just the punishment of students involved; he wants it to be about finding a solution.

“Let’s talk. Let’s have a dialogue,” he said. “It’s not about the game. This is bigger than sports. Let’s sit down and bridge that gap where some people think there’s no racism in high school athletics when, come on, there’s racism in everything in America.”

In her letter to parents, Principal Brown said she invited Cathedral Catholic’s coaches, athletic directors and administrators to come to Lincoln to work on “bridging the gap” between their two communities.

— Kristen Taketa and John Maffei are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune