SMITHS STATION, Ala. (WRBL) – An Alabama sports journalist covering Smiths Station High School and Hewitt-Trussville in Wednesday night’s Alabama High School Athletic Associations Flag Football Championship is under fire.
Parents, coaches and school leaders say they are outraged after the reporter made a Facebook post sexualizing female athletes. The group is urging the AHSAA to ban the reporter from all high school sidelines.
Smiths Station’s double-overtime loss in the first-ever Alabama High School Flag Football State Championship was heartbreaking. Coach Megan Larsen said her team left it all on the field.
“As much as I wanted to come away with a win that night, I came away with an even better feeling that I’ve got a team of future presidents, CEOs, senators and all of the above,” Larsen said.
The loss still stung and was followed by another gut-punch when Larsen says concerned parents began alerting her to a post on social media that has since been deleted.
Larsen says while athletes were making high school history, freelance sports journalist Bill Lumpkin III, who was covering the game for AL.com from inside Protective Stadium in Birmingham, posted pictures of the athletes on the field to his Facebook page with the caption, “Why does covering girls flag football make you think of lingerie football and pillow fights.”
News 3 reached out to Bill Lumpkin III for a comment. He has not responded.
“At a time when self-image and body-image are so important, for someone to speak about them in that way, regarding them as a lingerie pillow fight absolutely disgusts me. It made me angry to think that any of my girls would be looked at in that way while they are out trying to play a sport. It makes me sick to my stomach knowing that he was standing on the sidelines,” Larsen said.
Smiths Station High School Principal Brad Cook said as soon as The Alabama High School Athletic Association-sanctioned flag football, he and Coach Larsen have ensured the sport would be another opportunity for females to excel on the field and be taken seriously as student-athletes.
“It definitely tarnished what they have worked so hard to get to and that moment. To really show what they are all about and what type of athletes they are, and the character they have. For him to make that statement was deeply hurtful for the girls and how hard they have worked all year,” Cook said.
Larsen, Cook and parents immediately reached out to AL.com. Larsen says Al.com’s Senior Director for Content, Izzy Gould, apologized.
“We received an email alerting us about the post in question. We have addressed this internally and will seek to work with other freelance reporters for the remainder of the playoffs,” Gould told News 3 in a statement.
Meanwhile, Cook hopes the AHSAA will prevent Lumpkin from covering all high school athletics.
“It defiantly made my skin crawl, talking about my kids here. And to compare them to lingerie and football. I think that was a disturbing comparison about kids,” Cook said.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association told News 3 it had no comment on the situation.
Meanwhile, Larsen, Cook and parents are committed to making sure the student-athletes, who saw the post, are taken care of. Larsen is hopeful Lumpkin will issue an apology. But, while Larson is ready to offer grace, she never wants to see Lumpkin on any high school sideline.
“I think the Alabama High School Association has done a great job this season making our sport this new sport so exciting and so fun and so important for the girls. For this man to say, it was like a pillow fight is very insulting to what they are doing. For me, I would never like to see him on any sideline of any Alabama High School Athletic Association event ever again,” Larsen said.
Larsen says her number one objective is to protect players. Her second is to build a flag football dynasty at Smiths Station High School. There is already talk of expanding the program and adding a Junior Varsity team.