New information emerges regarding racially charged Snapchat conversation between Blugold football players

Blackface photo resurfaces as investigation into racist incident continues

Madeline Fuerstenberg

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November 2, 2020

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Bridget Kelley

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Photo by Submitted

An alleged photo of Bryson Wilkins (center) from high school wearing blackface surfaces as investigation into the racially charged Snapchat group chat in the Blugold football team continues.

(Note: This story is a follow-up to a story posted earlier today, found here.) 

One of the football players suspected of involvement in a racially charged Snapchat exchange between members of the Blugold football team is accused of allegedly donning blackface in high school and participating in conversations about “dressing black” for Halloween this fall. 

Kendall McGinnis, Leeshaun Evans and Lewis Balom, former Blugold football players and members of UW-Eau Claire’s Black Male Empowerment organization, shared a photograph depicting one of their former teammates appearing to be wearing blackface in high school. 

McGinnis identified the student as Bryson Wilkins, a third-year student and defensive lineman on the Blugold football team. 

The Spectator reached out to Wilkins via email on Wednesday afternoon. He declined to comment at this time. 

Evans, a fifth-year sports management student, said the photo resurfaced among the football players around Halloween, when different members of the team allegedly talked about “dressing black” for the holiday.

McGinnis said the images of the Snapchat conversation were brought to him by one of the players. McGinnis then shared the images with other members of BME who, in turn, shared the images across social media platforms. The images have since gone viral. 

According to BME’s Facebook page, the group brings “together men of distinction to form a brotherhood that can’t be broken, put a positive imprint on the world and bring black empowerment to UWEC.” 

McGinnis said this is not the first time he has observed racist behavior from his teammates. 

He said some racist behavior followed the election of President Donald Trump, which directed mocking behavior toward a player whose grandmother is an immigrant. 

Team members criticized McGinnis and some fellow team members after they openly declared their support for former NFL player Colin Kaepernick in his protests, McGinnis said.

Kaepernick made national news in 2016 when he knelt during the National Anthem before a football game to protest police brutality against people of color.

According to McGinnis, a Bias Incident Report had been filed in response to the Snapchat exchange and members of BME have reached out to the Chancellor’s Office and Daniel Schumacher, UW-Eau Claire’s director of athletics.

The Spectator emailed Wesley Beschorner, the head football coach and Schumacher Tuesday night for comment. Neither has responded. 

On Tuesday, members of BME released images of the Snapchat message chain featuring members of the Blugold football team allegedly initiating racially-charged imagery and references toward the BME.

In the group chat, third-year student Anthony Rauch’s name appeared above a photo of a burning cross and members of the Ku Klux Klan. The caption read: 

“For all who can’t make the BME meeting, Bryson and I are holding WME (White Male Empowerment) tonight at 7.”

The photo indicates Conrad Bolz, a third-year student; Jeremiah Crisostomo; Oscar Gonzalez, a third-year student and Jack Drake, a third-year student followed with additional comments.

“Bryson is the grand wizard,” Drake wrote.

“I’ll be there but I’ll be like 5 mins late,” Bolz responded. “Think the cross will still be burning? Don’t wanna miss that again.”

“Idk why you guys are wasting wood burning a cross tho,” Crisostomo wrote.

“Honestly just find someone who doesn’t have the same views as you or looks a little different and burn them,” Gonzalez wrote in response. 

“Do you have the spare gasoline,” Rauch asked.

“Ask Coach B,” Crisostomo responded.

Chancellor James C. Schmidt announced Wednesday morning that some students have been suspended from the football team. No names have been released.

McGinnis called the punishment a “slap on the wrist.”

“This is something that has been happening on this campus, and every time a racist situation happens on this campus, nothing is ever done about it,” McGinnis said. “So I think they need to be used as an example for future reference that this is not accepted at this school. If the school really feels that this is unacceptable and there’s a zero-tolerance against it, then they need to be expelled as an example.”

Balom, a fifth-year public relations student, said the things said in the chat were not justifiable or necessary. He questioned why some people feel they can say these things without hesitation.

“All three of us come from both spectrums,” Balom said. “We come from the football team and BME. The big difference is, BME is something that’s a part of us. We were BME before BME was even an official thing. For them to come and disrespect that and to slander and to joke about that in a way that is very, very familiar in today’s society – that’s not OK.”

Balom said the situation was especially frustrating because he and the other members of BME had to self-censor their responses in order to avoid fulfilling the aggressive or violent stereotypes associated with black men. He said they had to “swallow their pride” and continue to strive for excellence. 

After the message chain was shared on Facebook and Twitter, Dennis Beale, the founder of BME, addressed the issue via the BME Facebook page.

“I am appalled about what I have seen on social media,” Beale said. “This group was designed to help change the perception of African American Males on a predominantly white campus. Along with exemplifying the black excellence that these young men display on a daily basis. It is very disturbing to see the backlash we get from the people in our own backyard.”

More updates to follow.

Fuerstenberg can be reached at [email protected].