Port: We have to leave some room for redemption

Protestors hold their fists and homemade signs in the air during the march for George Floyd in downtown Fargo on Saturday, May 30. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — People who do or say racist things need to be held accountable.

We also need to leave open to those people a path to redemption.

I've been thinking about those issues after reading about a couple of ugly incidents in Grand Forks.

One involved two women, Brynn Nieukirk and Julia Vetter, who were, until just recently, volleyball players at the University of North Dakota. Earlier this year they were involved in a video that included a racial slur. They were disciplined but allowed to remain on the team. UND used the image of one of them in a recent promotion of its athletics programs.

This caused a UND football player, Jaxson Turner, to call the school out on Twitter. "This is never acceptable but especially during a time like this. This video was brought to your attention and this athlete shouldn't be the face of UND athletics," he wrote, directing his comments at a UND account.


UND responded. They've taken down the marketing images using Nieukirk , and both women have been axed from the volleyball team .

That seems like a just outcome to me. The best way to fight racism is to hold racists accountable. These women have lost their collegiate athletics careers. They may have lost scholarships and other opportunities. Certainly, they'll have to live with this incident for the rest of their lives.

Their names are publicly known, and the internet never forgets.

But while there's a lot of coverage of the consequences for their actions, what steps is the University of North Dakota, or anyone else, taking to help them find a path to redemption?

Let's talk about another incident from Grand Forks.

A group of students at Grand Forks Central High School created a Snapchat group called, stupidly, "White Power."

"Some of the messages in the group show pictures of students in what appears to be blackface, multiple racial slurs and a reference to the recent death of officer Cody Holte," my colleague Tanner Robinson reported for the Grand Forks Herald.

"One of my officers is dead because of a n-----," a member of the group reportedly wrote.


That's awful, but I'm not so sure about the way Grand Forks school officials have handled the situation.

It was addressed at a recent meeting of the school board .

The posts showed an "utter lack of humanity," board member Shannon Mikula said.

Superintendent Terry Brenner has checked with the cops about criminal charges, and the district is apparently speaking to lawyers about other legal actions.

That's a whole lot of potential punishment for the offending students. And, to be sure, they are deserving of discipline. Still, it would be nice to hear these educators talk about how they're going to help those students do better.

Whether we're talking about college-aged athletes or high school students, punishment without compassion is just vindictive.

While it may feel good to be vindictive toward people who say and do hateful and hurtful things, I'm not sure that road leads to the sort of world most of us want to live in.

We shouldn't just want to punish haters. We should also want them to stop hating. To do that, we have to leave a door to redemption open to them.


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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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