No sector of American society has been untouched by the ongoing nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, and that certainly includes the sports world. From some NBA players opening questioning whether now is the
However one place where it probably wasn’t as expected was from college athletes. For decades they’ve operated in a system where coaches got the big money and major publicity, while their efforts landed lots of income for institutions and next to nothing for them beyond the basics of a scholarship. They were deemed “amateurs” by the NCAA, and prevented from even working jobs in the offseason at many schools. Those that did permit it severely limited the amount of income they earned. Of course it’s hard (really impossible) to call any enterprise in which one group of people (coaches and schools) make millions of dollars “amateur.”
But now players are speaking up, and the days when coaches could do and say whatever they wanted are rapidly ending. Whether it was Iowa or Clemson, Mississippi State or Oklahoma. big name coaches are finding themselves under fire either for their attitudes, or for actions done by their assistants that they hadn’t properly handled. No less than national championship winner Dabo Swinney of Clemson found himself twice having to explain a situation involving one of his coaches using a racial slur.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz had to put one of his coaches and longtime friends under suspension for the same offense, while Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy found himself under scrutiny for both actions away from the field (wearing a t-shirt from OAN, a hardcore right-wing network often accused of hate speech) and on it (using racial slurs in comments to past players). Gundy has denied ever using such language, but he now knows he’s really under the microscope. Mike Leach, the new Mississippi State coach, had to apologize for an insensitive tweet with a photo of a noose and is now undergoing “sensitivity training,” whatever that is. For Leach, a Trump supporter with a long track record of questionable (at best) political comments, it will be quite interesting to follow him in the days to come.
Meanwhile, the SEC, a league once as white as a cloud, has now had the head coach at Tennessee Jeremy Pruitt not only speak at a rally in support of Black Lives Matter but announce plans to give the proceeds from a game this season to the organization. The presidents of both Ole Miss and Mississippi State last week called on the Governor to move forward with plans to change the design of the state flag, removing the odious Confederate symbol that’s long been a part of it.
This from the presidents of two schools once famous for some of the worse racial taunting in the SEC during the early days of racial integration. Of course Mississippi State has already had a Black football coach, and both schools have plenty of Black players on both the football and basketball teams. But it’s still a major step for their presidents to make that call, and for the SEC as a league to take public steps to denounce racism and bigotry.
While only the most hopelessly naive will take these steps as indicators no problems remain at either these schools, in the SEC, college football, or sports in general. But they are good steps, a realization by the people who run college sports and institutions that they can’t continue to operate as they have in the past. Hopefully, more progress will happen, particularly in the areas of hiring and personnel, both on the playing fields and beyond.