San Diego Catholic high school apologizes for football players’ racist photos aimed at rival

Football players
A Cathedral Catholic High School football player runs for a touchdown against Lincoln High in last week’s 41-0 victory.
(Josh DaFoe)

San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High School apologized this week after football players circulated and posed in offensive photos aimed at Lincoln High School, which Cathedral defeated in a football game the week before.

One social media post created by a Cathedral Catholic player had a photo of somebody wearing a shirt that read “Catholics vs. Convicts III” with the caption “We run the city” typed onto the photo.

A different photo of the Cathedral Catholic football team also generated controversy: The photo appears to show several players posing and making upside-down L’s with their hands, a reference to a gang sign that indicates an enemy.

Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, said that the social media posts were a “stupid thing to do” and that Cathedral Catholic administrators have reached out to Lincoln to apologize.


“This was dumb,” Eckery said. “This was not how you’re supposed to conduct yourself, period.... Bottom line is that this is an unacceptable way to communicate.”

Cathedral Catholic Principal Kevin Calkins also condemned the photos as racist in a letter to families and said his school unreservedly apologizes “for the poor judgment shown by the students who posed for and posted the racist photos.”

“High school sports is supposed to be about having fun, building character and sportsmanship, and learning how to work together as a team,” Calkins wrote. “This weekend, certain members of the Cathedral Catholic football team and others in the Cathedral Catholic community did the exact opposite, showing both poor character and bad sportsmanship by posting and reposting two different social media posts with blatant racist overtones aimed at the Lincoln High School community.”

Calkins wrote that he would not give details on student discipline, but “we have to own and atone for the wrong” done to the Lincoln High community.

In a letter to families Wednesday, Lincoln Principal Stephanie Brown said her school administration is investigating the two photos.

“Despite the unfair treatment of our students and coaches, our school maintained positive sportsmanship, maturity and professionalism,” Brown wrote.

The phrase “Catholics vs. Convicts” was a controversial slogan in the late 1980s that Notre Dame University students coined for a T-shirt amid a fierce football rivalry with the University of Miami. The rivalry culminated in a 1988 game in which Notre Dame upset Miami 31-30, a game spotlighted in a 2016 ESPN documentary called “Catholics vs. Convicts.”

The Notre Dame students called the Miami team convicts because of the team’s “rule-breaking image,” compared to Notre Dame’s preppy, “clean-cut” image, according to SB Nation.


The use of the word “convicts” in that football rivalry was already controversial in Miami; now it has created controversy in San Diego.

Cathedral Catholic High is a private school in Carmel Valley that enrolls about 1,600 students and charges $20,000 annual tuition, although 35% of its students receive financial aid.

Lincoln, a San Diego Unified school, is in southeastern San Diego and enrolls about 1,400 students, 87% of whom are from low-income families. About 18% of Lincoln students are Black and 71% are Latino.

Referring to Lincoln football players — most of whom are Black — as convicts offended Lincoln Coach David Dunn.


“All we want is to be treated fair and right, but it’s an uphill battle,” Dunn said in an interview. “We are not gang members, thugs and convicts. My kids are the members of the Lincoln High football team, a team that has posted a 3.0 grade-point average each of the last 10 years.”

This is not the first time Lincoln students have been subjected to racism around sporting events. In fall 2019, Lincoln students, including its cheerleaders, were subjected to racial slurs at a football game in Orange County with San Clemente High.

“This is nonsense,” Dunn said of the Cathedral Catholic photos. “Why can’t we be viewed as a high school program? We fight this stigma based on our skin color and the area in which we grew up.”

Jeff Harper-Harris, head basketball coach for Lincoln who brought attention to the Catholics vs. Convicts photo on social media, questioned why other people have such a negative perception of Lincoln, when Lincoln students earn scholarships and have gone on to prestigious colleges.


“Our Lincoln kids get scholarships and are very successful. I’m tired of the negative that our kids get not only from Lincoln, but Southeast as well,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Harper-Harris has been involved in biweekly meetings of high school coaches in Southern California about racial equity. He said he doesn’t want the fallout from the post to be just the punishment of students involved; he wants it to be about finding a solution.

“Let’s talk. Let’s have a dialogue,” he said. “It’s not about the game. This is bigger than sports. Let’s sit down and bridge that gap where some people think there’s no racism in high school athletics when, come on, there’s racism in everything in America.”

In her letter to parents, Principal Brown said she invited Cathedral Catholic’s coaches, athletic directors and administrators to come to Lincoln to work on “bridging the gap” between their two communities.


Taketa and Maffei write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.