Darby Head Football Coach Jeff Snavely did not lose his job last week, but he will face some disciplinary actions imposed by the Darby School Board in response to the message he posted on social media that many people took to be racist and the board members found unacceptable.
Snavely told the board that he wanted to “explain my comment and put it into context for you.” He said that he had been watching a video of people rioting in Salt Lake City.
“This was not a video of a peaceful demonstrators,” said Snavely. “It was a mob of people of different races who were flipping, vandalizing and burning a police vehicle. What I saw was people, and to be clear, people of different races, committing violent, heinous acts. What was on my mind was not the color of their skin, but that they were breaking the law and getting away with it.”
Snavely said he was a proud son of a Marine with family in law enforcement. He said it made him angry and he vented on Facebook, but he did not say the word “lynched” as appeared in one newspaper headline that stated “Darby coach says that Black Lives Matter protesters should be lynched.”
“I posted a comment that they should be strung up and hanged like in the old days,” but the word lynch, “was a word that was not part of my vocabulary.” He said, “I was only told in the last few days that lynching is a word used for African Americans. But in the old days in the West, where I grew up, it was outlaws and cattle rustlers who were hanged.
“I’m not a racist. I take full responsibility for my poor judgment in posting a public comment that brought embarrassment for the school, the school board, the community, my football players and students, my family and friends,” he said, and asked for a second chance.
He asked them to consider his entire career as coach serving for the last seven years with an unblemished record. He said he was more than a coach for the kids, that they were like family. He said he deeply regretted that he posted the comment and put everyone in this position.
School Board President Christina Harrell told the board that they had three options to consider: to terminate Snavely’s employment; to impose discipline without termination; or do nothing.
Asking for a motion to terminate drew no response, but a motion to discipline without termination was made and considered.
The meeting was held on Zoom and drew participants from Helena, Billings, and elsewhere in the state and even out of state. Some lived in Darby or once lived in Darby.
A mother of one of the players defended Snavely, saying how much he had helped her son and the other boys and what a good person he was. She said it was wrong to ruin a person’s life for one stupid mistake.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” she said. She urged the board to consider all the good things Snavely has done for the whole community. She said everyone makes mistakes and learns from them and moves on.
Several of those making public comment were educators of one sort or another. Most of the comment called for the board to take some strong action over the incident. One person emphasized the seriousness of the issue and how a simple slap on the hand may send the wrong message. Whether he is a racist or not or meant it as a racist remark or not, she said, “the statement itself is racist” and that should be recognized and dealt with appropriately. Another person found it unbelievable that he had never heard of the word lynching before. More than one person talked about the need for zero tolerance of such behavior. Another said that Snavely was not really remorseful, saying, “Why not an apology instead of an excuse?”
In response, Snavely said, “I am truly sorry for what I said. I am not a racist, truly. I am sorry for the words I typed and can see they could be misconstrued and could be taken as racist. I’m sorry that my point did not come across. I was calling for stricter punishment for crime, not race.”
“I guess I live in my own little bubble,” said Snavely, “and did not realize how big this was. My statement was wrong, it was a poor choice to get my meaning through.”
The board discussed specific forms of discipline such as some form of supervision of his coaching activities, suspension from coaching for a certain number of games or a certain time period, mandatory attendance at some information classes.
The final motion that was approved unanimously was to impose discipline on him without termination. The Chair and Vice-chair of the Board and the new Superintendent, Chris Toynbee, were charged to draft a letter of reprimand that will be placed in Snavely’s file, decide on the number of games he will be suspended, arrange for mandated training, and perhaps a component to address the student body and possibly others to share his experience. And what he’s learned.
On June 30th, the Darby School issued the following statement:
DARBY PUBLIC SCHOOL ACTION FOR COACH SNAVELY
In regard to recent comments by Coach Snavely on social media and the Darby School Board’s decision to discipline him, we offer the following statement:
Coach Snavely’s comments on social media were unacceptable. No effort to try to explain them or to put them in context erases the fact that he chose those words and made the conscious decision to share them with the world.
Those words do not represent this school, this board, our teachers and staff, or the community of Darby as a whole. They have caused tremendous grief, pain and divisiveness in our community that will likely take a great deal of time to heal.
But we must heal.
Although there were many people from our community and elsewhere calling for the
termination of Mr. Snavely’s employment, as a Board, we chose a different disciplinary path and a proactive plan of corrective action that we hope will spark a change in the mindset, culture and climate of our school and our community.
Given that this matter and the hearing before the Board on Thursday, June 25th, was held in a public setting, we have had many inquiries about what steps the District is taking to address Mr. Snavely’s actions. The following outlines both the disciplinary and corrective actions of the District.
● Mr. Snavely will be suspended without pay as coach for one year, effective June 30,
2020. During that time, he may not coach any Darby students directly or indirectly,
including through other coaches. He also may not attend any practices or Darby football
camps. If the 2020/21 football season is suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the
suspension will carry over to the next season.
● Mr. Snavely will be required to attend and complete a board-approved, one-on-one
training or counseling on social/racial injustice at his own expense.
● Mr. Snavely will be required to attend and help organize at least four community
conversations set up by the board chair and vice chair to improve the culture and
climate in the community and Darby Public Schools. He will also be required to bring 10
community members to each training by his invitation.
● Following completion of the training and community conversations, Mr. Snavely will be
required to establish a board-approved 1-hour program educating Darby youth about
the necessity of inclusion, respect and celebrating all cultures and races. This training
will be reviewed by the board and subject to changes as necessary.
● Mr. Snavely will prepare and distribute a public apology to the community as well as via
social and traditional media outlets.
● A letter of reprimand, including the above corrective actions, will be placed in Mr.
Snavely’s employment file.
We chose not to terminate Coach Snavely at this time in hopes that the actions outlined above and below can help us find a path toward healing; a way to generate a greater discussion in our community about difficult issues.
For our part as a Darby Public School and the decision we made. We will:
● Institute a racial/social justice committee at our school
● Take part in the community trainings
● Have schoolwide trainings to address social injustices
● Check in June 2021, by the same methods we are putting this notice out, to let the
public know what we have done and the effect it has had on our community and what
changes have come along for Mr. Snavely in his life.
Coach Snavely’s comments sparked great anger and pain, damaged the reputation of our school and our educators, and caused the district financial hardship. We believe he has a
responsibility to this community to douse those sparks and make things right.
Firing the coach would not have allowed us to make these demands of him. If he is true to his word that he hopes to learn from this mistake, and he is willing to take a leading role in helping our community heal, we will provide him a single opportunity to make good.
We would ask our community and the hundreds of others on social media who have expressed a variety of opinions to be involved productively in the conversations that will come from this incident.
On behalf of the School Board, I want to apologize to not just our community, but to all of those who were hurt, angered or victimized by the coach’s comments. It is our hope the steps outlined above will help bring real healing to this issue.