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USM handled embarrassing situation well

It’s bad enough that members of the University of Southern Mississippi band were ignorant enough to make a racist chant.

But to add insult to their own ignorance, the player those chants were directed toward is a player that was born in a United States commonwealth.

For those who haven’t followed this story, members of the Southern Miss pep band chanted, “Where’s your green card?” to Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez when Rodriguez was at the foul line during the first half of the Golden Eagles’ NCAA tournament matchup with the Wildcats Thursday.

University president Martha Saunders later apologized in a statement to Rodriguez for the remarks. Rodriguez accepted the apology, pointing out to media members that since he was born in Puerto Rico, he didn’t need a green card.

And therein lies the irony of those few band members that decided to make such cute comments. Not only do they come off as racist, but they also come off as stupid — though the two are almost always interchangeable, regardless of such pesky little facts.

Obviously, the most unfortunate thing we can take away from this instance is that racism is still alive and well. But what’s also disappointing is that it drew such negative attention to Southern Miss at a time when the Golden Eagles’ publicity should have been nothing but positive.

Southern Miss had just secured its first NCAA tournament berth since 1991, and as a No. 9 seed, had secured its highest seeding in school history. For an athletic program fresh off the heels of 12-2 season with a Conference USA championship in football, the season the men’s basketball team had helped continue to build on that momentum.

And there’s no reason to think that momentum won’t be maintained. But instead of people talking about that, they’re talking about the unfortunate actions of a few.

What’s also been lost in the chatter, though, is the fact that the Southern Miss administration should be commended in how it handled this incident.

According to Kansas State head coach Frank Martin, Southern Miss officials came to the team’s hotel after the Wildcats’ 70-64 win and personally apologized. Martin commended the fact that these officials didn’t just rely on the public statement by Saunders to quell the incident, but felt it was important to speak to Rodriguez in person.

Also to be commended is Rodriguez’s reaction. Rodriguez said following the incident that he knows a few ignorant don’t represent Southern Miss at large. When an emotional reaction would have been both understood and justified, Rodriguez chose to be the bigger, better man.

Finally, this incident does not in take anything away from the Golden Eagles’ season. A 25-9 record and an NCAA tournament appearance is a great thing for head coach Larry Eustachy to build upon going forward.

Hopefully, incidents such as this won’t take away from any future accomplishment by the Southern Miss men’s basketball team.