We applaud and admire the courageous stand that members of the Grambling State University football team took last weekend in boycotting their game against rival and home team Jackson State University. Though Jackson State was deprived of a Homecoming football game, the sincerity of the Grambling players is more important than any revenue lost, game forfeited or celebratory atmosphere. In a day and age when our young people are often characterized as apathetic and too distracted by their electronic environment, the young men who proudly wear the Grambling uniform issued a call to conscience that should not be ignored.
Why did the team refuse to board busses for the game against Jackson State University? They were fed up with inferior and unsanitary facilities, and the instability of the team’s coaching staff. The team made their concerns known to the Grambling State administration (read team letter) after the firing of university legend and Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams as head coach. Having fallen far from their days when coaching icon Eddie Robinson led a program that was a virtual NFL farm team, the Tigers are stuck in a losing tailspin and the players are not happy with the university’s support or the conditions of the facilities on the Louisiana campus. Displeased with the response of the university president, Grambling’s players acted as a team and decided to forfeit the Jackson State Game. It was a bold move but the only card the players felt they were dealt, and they used it to their advantage.
This protest wasn’t about some spoiled college students demanding luxuries. It was about students who are working hard to represent their university in intercollegiate athletics and feeling deprived of the basic necessities to perform to their potential. They are tired of an athletic complex that has mold and mildew, and leaking pipes, and a weight room that is falling apart. The players also complained of the less than sanitary conditions, and the poor upkeep of the team’s uniforms and staph infections that they believe have resulted from uniforms not being properly cleaned. These young men had reached the end of their patience with a football program with an incredible legacy that has apparently come upon some very hard times.
This is not all about football though and it’s not all the fault of Grambling State. The university is one of the nation’s public historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and like many of its counterparts has faced decades of inadequate funding and support from its state. Grambling like many public state supported Black colleges, has always had to make do with less but expected to produce the equivalent or better than its traditionally white counterparts in Louisiana. Publicly supported Black colleges have suffered from the same climate of racial hostility in localities that is now played out in state capitals. The weapon of choice for racial animus is no longer the noose but the state budget. For decades Black colleges have been cheated and the result is what we see at Grambling State – inferior facilities and campuses that are sometimes decades behind public white colleges. You can be sure there are no complaints from the athletes at Louisiana State University about their facilities, or from LSU students in general. And while all colleges have seen cutbacks in the aftermath of the recession, HBCUs like Grambling were already significantly disadvantaged. The disparity in financial support has forced some Black college football programs to play large Division I powerhouses simply for a check while their team is humiliated on the field. This farce occurred recently when Florida A&M University took a shellacking from Ohio State University. The irony is that many of these current football titans would not have dared to play some Black colleges like Grambling State, Morgan State and Florida A&M, when those schools had the cream of the crop of Black talent that white schools would not admit.
We hope the NCAA becomes directly involved in this matter and we encourage all historically Black colleges, including Jackson State University, to stand behind the Grambling players. The NCAA needs to call a summit of state legislators to examine racial disparities in funding for athletic programs at state supported institutions. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights should also launch an investigation. Students should not be subjected to differential treatment based on their attendance at a historically Black college and that is precisely what is occurring. These states have a legal obligation not to discriminate and cannot use the excuse that its large white institutions athletic programs are simply benefiting from alumni and booster support; while knowing fully that HBCUs, due to the consequences of race in the economy, do not have alumni resources that can rival larger white schools.
We wish the Grambling team the best for the remainder of their season, but more importantly give them a standing ovation for their goal line stand on October 19, 2013.