ITHACA, NY – Cornell football offensive line coach Roy Istvan faced backlash earlier this week after tweeting out a picture of two Cornell football players wearing sombreros.
The photo, which was captioned, “Eman & Fosta! THE BIG SOMBRERO!” was later retweeted by Cornell University’s official Twitter account, but has since been deleted from both that account and Istvan’s.
Istvan explained in another tweet that he “awards the big hat to team members who represent the best teamwork and winning spirit on and off the field.”
The tweet was called out by MECha de Cornell, a community group for Chicano and Latino heritage at the university. The issue was immediately polarizing — some who responded called for an official apology from Cornell, while others including students and football players, including some who claimed Mexican heritage, said that they were not offended by the images and felt that the criticism was an overreaction.
“I’m a Mexican from El Paso, Texas, and currently a Cornell football player,” wrote Gustavo Dorsett. “I am having trouble seeing how this in any way is so offensive, if I showed this picture to my family in Mexico they would certainly laugh and be excited that our team incorporates a part of the Mexican heritage in celebrating our player awards.”
Another commenter, Silvia Treviño, attempted to explain why the images were offensive: “In the U.S. the sombrero has become a stereotypical symbol for ‘Mexican’ culture. It is an artifact that has been used as a prop to mock, caricaturize, and even use our culture as a costume. It is not okay for Cornell and their employees to ignore the racist history of the sombrero and to use it for a situation that in no way calls for the use of that cultural item.”
While some defended the use of the sombrero as celebrating Mexican culture, others argued that the sombrero was an issue because it was not used as a meaningful symbol. They said using a sombrero in this way doesn’t have anything to do with Cornell, football, the player’s accomplishments, or Mexican culture and rather was just a joke at the expense of that culture.
Istvan tweeted his apology, writing: “I am truly sorry for the cultural insensitivity and understand how our expression of pride… came at the expense of others in the Cornell community.”
— The Hoosier (@IUHoops2005) September 22, 2016
Cornell has not issued any official statement on the matter.