GREAT FALLS – A Billings radio host has been suspended indefinitely after suggesting in a website post that Native American basketball teams in Montana play in a separate postseason tournament.
KCTR-AM radio published the announcement about Paul Mushaben's suspension to its Cat Country 102.9 website on Thursday night, two days after the controversial post first went up.
"On Tuesday of this week, longtime KCTR morning show host Paul Mushaben made a post on his blog entitled 'Indian Basketball,'” the statement read. "KCTR does not support the blog or the sentiments expressed therein. Once management became aware of the content it was immediately removed from the station website and we have since taken action to suspend Mr. Mushaben indefinitely, pending further internal review."
The station went on to apologize for the comments.
"The blog post in no way reflects the values or beliefs of KCTR or its employees and we sincerely apologize to our listeners, our advertisers, and the Native American community. We assure you that we are taking appropriate action to prevent this from happening in the future."
Mushaben posted on the station's website Tuesday that a recent tournament crowd was "so unruly and disrespectful of the facility that it may be time for the (Montana High School Association) to proceed with an all Indian tourney."
In response, members of the basketball teams from Power, Belt, Heart Butte and Box Elder locked arms at center court and shook hands before beginning competition Wednesday in Great Falls.
The crowd of about 3,500 responded with loud cheers and applause, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
"What we want to do from a Northern C perspective is to show we've got Indian teams, we've got non-Indian teams, and we're going to be good sports and we're going to be together," said Box Elder boys' basketball coach Jeremy MacDonald. "And at the end of the day we're going to shake hands and tell each other, 'Great game.'"
MacDonald said he hopes the pregame ceremony helps generate "a bigger discussion and we start to bring people together instead of making this divide between each other."
Mushaben's post said an "Indian team involved in a tournament left people re-thinking if it's worth it or not to host a tournament." He did not mention which tournament he was referring to. The post was removed later Tuesday.
When interviewed by The Billings Gazette, Mushaben denied there was a racial overtone to his post, but that he was pointing out the source of an issue.
"It seems that the majority of the problems occur when Native Americans play," Mushaben said.
School officials acknowledge that the crowd atmosphere at high school games can get heated, but they rejected the idea that reservation schools and their fans are any more boisterous than others.
"A lot of this stuff, I think, is a bit of urban legend," said Gerald Chouinard, superintendent at Lame Deer, but he acknowledged there are some big rivalries.
"It's not the kids that are causing the issues. It's the fans," said Kelly Haaland, superintendent at Melstone. "And the fans on both sides can be equally bad."
Mark Beckman, executive director of the MHSA, said no schools have declined to host a tournament based on which teams are playing and that the MHSA has not received complaints from managers of any of last weekend's tournaments.
He noted the MHSA handbook prohibits discrimination with regard to gender, religion, race or ethnic origin in activities sponsored by the association.
"The MHSA will not exclude or discriminate against any participants or their fans, and further is concerned with the intolerance expressed through certain online postings and social media," Beckman said in a statement.
Sam Bruner, the superintendent at Plenty Coups, said segregating tournaments isn't the solution.
"I don't know what it would accomplish other than it would cause more division," Bruner said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.