Players claim Texas official used racial slur before, after incident

ByJohn Barr and Michael Sciallo ESPN logo
Monday, September 14, 2015

SAN ANTONIO -- The Texas high school football official who was blindsided by two players during a game earlier this month called two players the N-word on separate occasions, once before the infamous hit and once after, according to the accounts of four John Jay High School players and one person who was on the sideline that night.

The players also have told those investigating the incident that the official used language offensive to Hispanic players.

The player accounts were provided to Outside the Lines on the condition that the players and source would not be named, due to an ongoing school district investigation.

Officials with the Northside Independent School District said in a news conference Tuesday that, among other things, they were looking into alleged racist remarks made by the official, Robert Watts, but declined to provide specifics of what was said and to whom.

The video of John Jay safeties Michael Moreno and Victor Rojas blindsiding Watts in a game against Marble Falls on Sept. 4 has gone viral, bringing national attention to the San Antonio public school.

Watts has declined to comment. His New Jersey-based attorney, Alan Goldberger, however, has said in multiple interviews that Moreno and Rojas fabricated allegations that Watts used racist remarks during the game in order to make excuses for their own actions.

When reached by phone Saturday, Goldberger said, "I'm not going to get into a media debate with these kids. Mr. Watts has denied he made any offensive remarks." Goldberger declined further comment.

Earlier this week, Goldberger said that Watts has no prior history of complaints about his language during games.

Northside ISD athletic director Steven Laing said the investigation into the events of the game will probably wrap up this weekend.

When asked specifically about the comments Watts made during the game and his alleged use of the N-word, Laing said: "That's not a surprise. That's what we've been hearing all along."

Laing would not comment on what should be done if, in fact, it is proved that Watts did use racist language but said all of the information from John Jay players and coaches would be turned over to the Texas Association of Sports Officials so the governing body of Texas referees can conduct its own investigation.

John Jay is predominantly a minority school. Marble Falls High, which hosted the game, is a predominantly white school northwest of Austin.

Officials from Marble Falls told OTL they couldn't comment due to the ongoing investigation.

Outside the Lines has learned that it wasn't Moreno or Rojas who first alerted John Jay coaches to the alleged racist remarks but rather quarterback Moses Reynolds and the team's starting running back, Trent Hobdy.

The game was marred by a series of penalties and ejections that contributed to what one school administrator characterized last week as a "powder-keg" atmosphere.

John Jay players were frustrated that no Marble Falls players were ejected during the physical contest, which included two John Jay touchdowns nullified by penalties.

In the third quarter, John Jay wide receiver Daytwon Sheridan was ejected from the game for throwing punches at a Marble Falls player.

In the fourth quarter, according to the accounts of two different John Jay players obtained by Outside the Lines, Reynolds ran the ball up the middle on a quarterback keeper and, after getting tackled, found himself on the receiving end of some trash talk from a Marble Falls player. According to the accounts of two players, Reynolds did not respond to the opposing player but instead turned to Watts, threw him the ball and said, "See, I'm not saying nothing."

Two John Jay players said Watts, apparently angry with the way Reynolds had thrown the ball to him, confronted Reynolds and said: "N-----, throw the f---ing ball at me again."

On the next possession, Reynolds was playing safety when a Marble Falls running back broke through the left side and wasn't tackled until he reached the John Jay secondary. Reynolds, who was tied up with a Marble Falls blocker, was not in on the tackle. While video of the play, reviewed by Outside the Lines, clearly shows the Marble Falls player striking Reynolds in the face mask at least twice, only Reynolds, who retaliated by pushing the opposing player's face mask, was ejected from the game by Watts.

When Reynolds came to the sideline, he told John Jay offensive coordinator Roy Garcia and secondary coach Mack Breed that he'd been called the N-word by Watts, according to a person on the John Jay sideline, who asked not to be identified because of the school district's investigation.

According to Northside ISD officials, it was Breed who, several plays prior to the play in which Watts was blindsided, said of Watts: "That guy needs to pay for cheating us." Breed has been placed on administrative leave for his conduct during the game.

When Reynolds later shared the story with his mother, Michele, he told the same story of how Watts called him the N-word, according to a person familiar with the exchange, who also asked not to be identified.

Later in the fourth quarter, when Watts heard John Jay senior defensive lineman Sammy Alvarado speaking Spanish, Watts reacted by saying, "We're in America, speak English," according to the account of a John Jay player who said he heard the remark from Watts.

With the clock winding down and John Jay trailing 15-9, the video shows sophomore Rojas hitting a defenseless Watts from behind, knocking him down, followed by Moreno lowering his helmet and piling into Watts while he was on the ground. The two were only in the game because starters Sheridan (who plays receiver and safety) and Reynolds had been ejected earlier.

The video has now been seen online by millions of people. What isn't known, at least not to those outside the John Jay program, is what the players say happened immediately after the now-infamous hits: As Watts rose to his feet, he immediately confronted Hobdy.

"You can't see it on film but the ref was all up in his face, chest to chest," said a team source, who witnessed the exchange from the John Jay sideline.

As Watts confronted Hobdy, he said, "Did you hit me?" according to one player's account of the exchange. Hobdy responded by saying: "You don't know who hit you," that same player said.

Watts questioned Hobdy again, asking, "Did you hit me, n-----?" according to the accounts of two John Jay players.

Hobdy was ejected from the game, even though he hadn't hit Watts, while Moreno remained in the game.

As Hobdy came to the sideline, visibly upset, he told offensive coordinator Garcia and defensive position coach Breed about Watts' use of the N-word, according to a source on the John Jay sidelines. That same source said John Jay head coach Gary Gutierrez was made aware of the racist language allegedly used by Watts.

"It burns me up on the inside," the source said, when asked about the impact Watts' alleged remarks had on the John Jay players.

"If the kids [Rojas and Moreno] would have never done anything, this wouldn't be an issue and he'd probably just go on making comments like that."

Rojas and Moreno, who were suspended from the team and the school, will attend Northside Alternative High School pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing conducted by the Northside ISD, and could also face assault charges.

On Friday, John Jay played its first game since the incident, losing 37-14 to Del Rio.

Police officers lined the bleachers and edges of the playing field as school officials added extra security. The game was played without incident.

John Barr is an investigative reporter and Michael Sciallo is a producer in ESPN's Enterprise Unit.

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