A week after the terrorist attacks on the United States, a Berkeley High football player has been suspended for tonight’s game at Dos Palos for putting an “anti-American” quote on the team Web site.
Joshua Sabbah, a senior, put “F*** USA” on his player profile for the varsity team’s Web site. When Berkeley head coach Matt Bissell found out about the quote on Monday, he ordered it removed and suspended Sabbeh for this week’s game.
“I think it was a case of a kid saying something without thinking about it,” Bissell said. “I just want him to sit and reflect on what he said and how it represents the team and the school.”
Bissell said he probably would have reacted the same way if last week’s attacks hadn’t occurred.
“It’s not so much what he said. He has First Amendment rights,” Bissell said. “But he did it in a medium that wasn’t appropriate. It represents me, the football team, and Berkeley High. It was just compounded by last Tuesday.”
Sabbeh’s quote had been on the site for nearly two weeks before Berkeley High officials found out about it. The quote was found by a Dos Palos assistant coach, Steve Hobbs, on Monday. Hobbs told the Dos Palos athletic director, Bill Van Orth, who called Berkeley High officials.
“We were concerned that with everything going on in the nation, we should take a closer look,” Van Orth said. “We always talk to the other school about game issues, and I said maybe you should check out your Web site, especially (Sabbeh).”
Nick Schooler, a Berkeley High player who helped put together the Web site, said he didn’t think much of the quote when he put it on the site two weeks ago, prior to the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The only change he made was to insert the asterisks to mask the profanity.
According to Bissell, a Berkeley High teacher was supposed to go through everything on the Web site for content, but Schooler said the teacher only looked at “two or three of them.”
“It was my understanding that a teacher would look through everything and filter stuff out,” Bissell said. “It’s just an unfortunate situation at an unfortunate time.”
Sabbeh, who transferred to Berkeley High from St. Mary’s High this year, was absent from Thursday’s practice and unavailable for comment.
Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch supported Bissell’s reaction.
“I made the recommendation that the the student did something inappropriate and that it’s up to the coach to make that decision,” Lynch said.
Sabbeh’s teammates, on the other hand, seemed less sure about the suspension.
“It’s nothing,” one player said. “The form just asked for a quote. It didn’t say anything about what we could put on there.”
Several Berkeley players said they heard the Dos Palos officials were concerned with Sabbeh’s safety if he attended the game, but both Van Orth and Berkeley High officials denied that was ever discussed.
“My feeling is that the school handled it and took care of it,” Van Orth said. “If the kid came to the game we would support that.”