West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is a volunteer coach at Greenbrier East High in Lewisburg, and has coached the Spartans’ girls basketball team since 2003. But an incident on Tuesday night between Greenbrier East and Woodrow Wilson, led Justice to use some choice words when discussing his opponent.
“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,” Justice said according to The Register-Herald. “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.”
The incident in question occurred in the fourth quarter when an Woodrow assistant coach and a fan got into a scuffle behind the Woodrow bench. It led to Woodrow’s head coach taking his team off the court. A Woodrow assistant coach, Gene Nabors, was later cited by state police for obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in prison. Two other people were cited and five Woodrow Wilson plays have since been suspended as a result of the incident.
The game was later called with Greenbrier East leading by six points.
“The game was over when they walked off the floor—it’s just as simple as that,” Justice said. “They don’t know how to behave and at the end of the day, you got what you got.”
Justice later said in a statement it was “totally absurd” to infer racial intent in his choice of words.
“My definition of a thug is clear—it means violence, bullying, and disorderly conduct,” he said in a statement. “And we, as West Virginians, should have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior. Anyone that would accuse me of making a racial slur is totally absurd.
“I’m extremely proud that my coaches, my team, and myself were not involved in this incident in any way, shape, form, or fashion and I’m truly saddened that the Woodrow kids had to be subjected to this behavior.”
The Register-Herald notes that Woodrow is one of the more racially diverse schools in the state. It has a student body that is 72% white and 19% black, according to enrollment data, and the two girls coaches at Woodrow are black men. Greenbrier East’s student body is 89% white and 5% black.
The local branch of the NAACP has called for a meeting in the wake of Justice’s comments and according to the Register-Herald, legislators are calling for an apology from the governor.