By Todd Quinones
TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — Eight wrestlers punished for their involvement in a photo scandal that sent shockwaves through a local high school are speaking out.
There are questions about whether or not the picture depicts a lynching.
Thursday night the wrestlers defended themselves against claims the picture was racially motivated.
In the photo seven white teens from the Phillipsburg High School wrestling team are posed with a black wrestling dummy in a Paulsboro wrestling shirt that’s hanging from a noose.
Two of the boys have the hoods on their sweatshirts fixed into points.
Thursday night the students faced news cameras together for the first time since the controversial picture went viral on Tuesday (See Previous Story).
They didn’t answer questions.
In a statement read by their attorney Scott Wilhelm, they say the wrestling dummies are only made of dark leather.
“Didn’t give a thought to the physical appearance of the dummy other than a generic Paulsboro wrestler.”
Phillipsburg was celebrating a big win over their state rival Paulsboro which does have some black wrestlers.
“Our success may have clouded our thinking, however innocent, perceived harmful to others.”
There was no explanation offered about the pointed hoods.
Through their statement, the seven wrestlers in the photograph and the wrestler who took the picture apologized repeatedly to all involved including Paulsboro athletes.
The Phillipsburg School District suspended the eight students for three days and they have been barred from a state wrestling tournament this weekend.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association backed the disciplinary action, saying in part:
“The photograph depicts a fundamental disrespect for an opponent, using violent imagery that has no place in high school sports.”
The wrestlers are all between the age of 14 and 17.
In their statement the wrestlers also said they are extremely disappointed in the way they were disciplined by the school district.