6 questions I have after watching ‘BS High,’ the documentary about the Bishop Sycamore High School football scandal

OPINION: I spent an hour and a half with my jaw dropped at the audacity of Roy Johnson and anybody associated with the super duper scam that was Bishop Sycamore High School.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Like most folks with even a passing interest in what happens in the sports world, I remember the news stories from 2021 about this high school from Ohio named Bishop (BS) Sycamore that got curb stomped by IMG Academy in a nationally televised high school football game on ESPN. Most of the games televised are between powerhouses, and BS was no powerhouse. In fact, they were terrible. By the time the game was over everybody was wondering how they even managed to land a nationally televised game — and on ESPN, no less. 

That’s when the fireworks started. Somehow it got out that the school maybe didn’t even really exist, and they were the butt of every joke on radio, television and the internet. In December 2021, the Ohio Department of Education released a report saying that the school was basically a scam, spearheaded by their coach, Roy Johnson, who amazingly, did not break any laws. 

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Roy Johnson, right, with a Bishop Sycamore player (Courtesy of HBO)

All of that AND MORE is in the recently released documentary on Max appropriately titled, “BS High,” which tells the story of Roy Johnson — a Mount Rushmore-level, first-ballot hall-of-fame scammer—and how he managed to convince parents, coaches and students to come along for his fraud-tastic ride to … wherever he was trying to go. It’s a truly bizarre and, at times, scary look into the mind of a narcissistic, self-described legend. And because of this documentary, I have ALL THE QUESTIONS. Allow me to share with you six big-picture questions (if you watch it, trust me, there are hundreds of questions you could ask). 

1. Why in the world would this man agree to participate in a documentary that has no other choice than to point out how much of a scammer and, frankly, a sociopath he is? 

They point it out early that Roy — who likens himself to Hannibal from the ’80s television show “The A-Team” — is probably thrilled to tell his story as if ultimately that’s his goal in life. It seems like that’s right. Roy thinks he won, despite how much destruction he left in his wake because his story is one worthy of being told. So I guess the answer to that one is easy: He agreed to tell his story because Roy Johnson thinks that Roy Johnson did nothing wrong and actually did something extraordinary, even if it didn’t work out. It’s not that he shouldn’t have done it; it’s how could he have done it better?

2. This is going to sound super cliché, but I don’t think this question can be stressed enough: Where were the parents?

Look, I get it — Roy showed up talking about how he was going to give a kid who’s run out of opportunities a new shot at their dreams of playing college ball (with hopes of going further). I also understand how for many families and kids for whom chances really never come why they took the opportunity to jump at this. But this “school” existed for years. Not one year … years. They weren’t going to class and lived in hotels. They weren’t in school. That didn’t raise ANY eyebrows from parents? Did none of the parents of kids who were under 18 ask ANY questions?? NO parent was like, this is a scam? Maybe they did, but they didn’t want to be seen on camera. But man, there is A LOT of blame to go around in this situation. Roy is a problem, yes, but so are the other adults involved. 

Speaking of …

3. Roy wasn’t the only coach. There were coaches. Plural. Did none of those coaches realize there was a scam afoot? 

Did they think that the kids (some of whom were legally adults and had already graduated from high school) were in school all day, and they ONLY paid attention during football practice? I need to hear from the other coaches (one agreed to be in the doc, and he genuinely seemed to feel bad at one point when the kids were talking about how their lives were ruined by BS High and Roy). Again, the adults involved are all complicit as far as I’m concerned. 

4. I wonder if all the people involved were, more or less, just waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Roy initially set up this same scam with a school called Christians of Faith Academy, which was also a school that didn’t exist. It only had a football team. Were the parents, students and coaches all just like, “Either this works or we’re going to jail?” That’s what truly baffles me — nothing about what was happening and existed for years seemed at all like something even the most delusional person would look at as legit. 

5. Probably most importantly, is it THIS easy to scam an entire SYSTEM? 

I think the answer is a resounding, yes. Or at least it was; I presume this story opened a lot of eyes. Then again, the level of audacity of Roy Johnson is otherworldly; most folks wouldn’t even THINK to do this. 

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Players from Bishop Sycamore High School. (Courtesy of HBO)

But seriously, Bishop Sycamore had MULTIPLE seasons. They played full football schedules. Does nobody ever check to see who they’re playing? And do the kids not have to be registered with any governing body? This whole thing only fell apart because of an investigator who saw some red flags; it took years for people to even care about this scam. It took BS ending up on television for people to wonder what happened. What did the kids do when it WASN’T football season? Are football programs really only accountable to the coaches? That’s what surprised me most; this doesn’t seem like THAT hard of a scam to deploy. You just need to be like Roy: insecure, extreme and resourceful. Roy traveled with these kids all over the country to play teams of significant reputation. And yet, this scam went on for years. 

6. How did his scam not run afoul of ANY criminal codes? 

The fact that there are only civil suits out there befuddles me. Granted, this kind of scam isn’t one that lawmakers would think they need to protect against, but whew … they couldn’t find ONE criminal offense? Not that I want another Black man in jail, but I am truly amazed that Roy Johnson is a free man. That should be the scariest takeaway from the entire documentary: It’s that easy to call yourself a high school and participate in sports. (See No. 5.) 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.