The governor of West Virginia is fending off a full-court press from critics for calling a high school girls basketball team a “bunch of thugs” after an ugly scuffle cut a game short.
Gov. Jim Justice said accusations of race playing a role in his comments Tuesday about players from Woodrow Wilson High School is “totally absurd,” according to a statement released Wednesday. Woodrow was versing Greenbrier East High School, where Justice is a volunteer coach.
“My definition of a thug is clear — it means violence, bullying and disorderly conduct,” Justice said. “And we, as West Virginians, should have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior. Anyone that would accuse of making a racial slur is totally absurd.”
While saying he was saddened that girls from Woodrow were subjected to the mid-game melee, Justice said he was proud that he, his team and his coaches were not involved in the fracas “in any way, shape, form or fashion.”
One assistant coach was cited by state police for obstruction of an officer after the fourth-quarter outburst, Justice said. The governor did not identify that coach, but Woodrow assistant coach Gene Nabors and a fan were involved in the outburst directly behind Woodrow’s bench, The Register-Herald reports.
Nabors then took his team off the court and the game was later suspended after a long delay, according to the newspaper. Greenbrier East was leading 56-50 with 5:45 left in the fourth quarter when the game was called.
Asked about the incident after the game, Justice didn’t hold back.
“I hate to say it any other way, but honest to God’s truth is the same thing happened over at Woodrow two different times out of the Woodrow players,” the Republican governor told the newspaper. “They’re a bunch of thugs. The whole team left the bench, the coach is in a fight, they walked off the floor, they called the game!”
Justice added: “They don’t know how to behave and at the end of the day, you got what you got.”
Two coaches for Woodrow are black men, the newspaper noted.
At least one state lawmaker, Delegate Mike Pushkin, has called on Justice to apologize.
“Pro tip: Spend more time being Governor during session and less time making thinly veiled racial slurs … and apologize,” Pushkin tweeted.
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