|White running back Jacob Hester: LSU alumni and fans favorite Tiger Player|
Forty years ago, LSU would field its last team of all-white players before finally integrating in 1972 by playing Mike Williams (who they had signed in 1971).
John Ed Bradley, a writer for Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, played at LSU in the late 1970s and wrote a book about his experiences called It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium. On page 243 of that book upon reuniting with teammates he hadn't seen in 30 years, Bradley tells a story meeting the family of fellow LSU offensive lineman, the late Charles McDuff:
When dad played, I think it meant a lot more to be an LSU football player than it does today," John (one of Charles's sons) says. "Now the players look at college as a step to the pros, but back then it was enough just to wear that uniform and be on the team."That LSU team was overwhelmingly white; the LSU team that will take the field in Dallas against the University of Oregon this coming Saturday will be overwhelmingly Black.
LSU, located in Baton Rouge, is the flagship university in the state of Louisiana. Boasting an enrollment of 28,000 (76 percent white and nine percent Black), LSU's football program won two national titles in the first decade of the 2000s and is traditionally viewed as a perennially college football power. The overwhelmingly white alumni and fan-base of LSU are perhaps the most rabid college football fans in the nation.
It wasn't but a few years ago that a racial controversy was sparked over the purple and gold (the colors of LSU) Confederate Flag that LSU waved at football games and that flew high over the tailgates sites of the Tiger faithful:
When Louisiana State University’s third-in-the-nation football squad takes the field in Atlanta this Saturday for the Southeastern Conference title match, some die-hard fans of the Tigers will wildly wave a purple-and-gold banner modeled after the Confederate battle flag.
The scene may strike some observers as odd, since the flag is often seen as a symbol of racism, and the LSU football squad is largely black.
“It’s just mind-boggling,” says LSU junior running back Justin D. Vincent, who is black.
For the past several seasons, the purple-and-gold banner has provoked muted protests which have almost always fizzled quickly.
But both supporters and opponents of the flag agree that this year has been different.
In October, the university’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) started a full-field drive to get the flag banned on campus.
And NAACP members say their anti-flag effort is part of a broader campaign to increase minority recruitment, to secure funding for a campus cultural center, and to require all students to take at least one course in minority history.
This time, they say, the flag controversy won’t go away.
University Chancellor Sean O’Keefe has said that he will continue to allow the flag on campus because he respects the freedom of expression guaranteed in the First Amendment.
However, the university has publicly discouraged the use of the flag and has asked fans to express their school spirit with other, less offensive symbols.
Meanwhile, some fans have responded to the NAACP effort by buying even more flags.
The controversy over the Confederate flag burns brightly, and it has left a divided campus grappling with the equivocal legacy of the South.
A CAMPUS SPLIT IN TWO
Several black LSU students who spoke to The Crimson this month backed the NAACP’s anti-flag stance.
“It is the flag that the most notorious terrorists ever to come from U.S. soil, the Ku Klux Klan, waved to frighten African Americans,” Sevetri M. Wilson, an LSU sophomore who is black, says.
Opponents of the ban advance two main arguments: they claim the flag stands for southern heritage, and they say waving the banner is free speech under the First Amendment.
“I think you certainly have people who are flying it during game day to insult other people, which is wrong,” says Ethan J. Guagliardo, an LSU senior. “Other people actually feel a southern identity, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
“I think it’s protected speech, and this move to ban it is absurd,” says Jason P. Dore, a second year law student at LSU.
The First Amendment arguments haven’t mollified flag critics such as senior Collins Phillips, leader of the Student Equality Commission at LSU, who organized four anti-flag protest marches—three of which were staged on the days of home football games.
The lone exception was a rally on Oct. 24 in front of Chancellor O’Keefe’s office that drew more than 150 students, according to the LSU student newspaper, the Daily Reveille.
When O’Keefe held a question-and-answer session with demonstrators, pro-flag hecklers tried to disrupt the meeting.
“They had people in the background running around with rebel flags tied around their necks like they were Superman,” Vincent says.
At home games, the anti-flag marchers passed tailgaters outside Tiger Stadium, and participants say a few fans offered support.
But others shouted racial slurs, and some people even threw water and ice at the marchers, according to Wilson.
At the Nov. 5 protest, three tailgaters were arrested and others chanted epithets including “Go back to Africa,” “Go back to the ghetto,” and “Go to a black college,” says Wilson.
These same counter-protesters then cheer for a football team that is “predominantly black,” Vincent says.
That last quote perfectly nails the state of college football in the Southeastern Conference (SEC); overwhelmingly white student bodies and alumni-bases cheering on the traditions of their beloved football teams that happen to look like a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) squad.
In 2007, LSU's football team was 52 percent Black while only 3.5 percent of the student body (out of 28,000) was Black. A Black professor at the University of Georgia, Billy Hawkins, wrote The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominately White NCAA Institutions, a book which argues that college football and basketball programs enrich themselves at the expense of Black labor. Hawkins fails to point out that in the SEC (and throughout the country) massive fan-bases and brand recognition already existed for a program like LSU.
It is Black players who would have had to go to fourth-rate HBCU's like Grambling, Southern, or Prairie View A&M that should be thankful integration ended so that they have the opportunity to play for and go to school at established universities.
In Hawkins book (on page. 110), he writes:
The issue is not in having equal representation, that would be impossible, but to recognize the messages this sends when Black males are well represented in highly visible sports. Recruiting Black males specifically for their athletic ability is an institutional racist practice that reinforces beliefs about Blacks' intellectual capabilities and athletic abilities. It creates unique experiences for Black males who do not participate in varsity teams sports, as well as, for Black males who are highly visible as celebrity athletes.The only reason Black males - who don't play sports - are admitted to major colleges like LSU is because standards have been lowered to accommodate the horrific high school transcripts (and SAT/ACT ) they send in for review. The Christian Science Monitor pointed out recently that only four percent of Black high school seniors are prepared for college, based on the embarrassingly low ACT scores produced by Black test takers.
When you see a Black male on a major college campus, chances are he is there only because of his "athletic" ability. There's nothing institutionally racist about this practice: the Black athlete gets the opportunity to earn a degree for free without any previous academic merit.
On that 2007 LSU team was white running back Jacob Hester, who quickly became one of the more popular players in LSU history because he was a white guy excelling at a position long dominated (perhaps designated) for Black athlete-students. Hester helped lead LSU to a national title, facing discrimination from predominately Black SEC defenses along the way:
Unlike SEC schools (and Big Ten colleges and universities like Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana), the Air Force Academy has rigorous academic standards that student-athletes must meet for acceptance.
Hester led LSU to the national title and was looked at as one of the top players of the 2007 season and found himself the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover-story:
"The consummate throwback player, the 6-foot, 224-pound Hester is a gifted inside runner and underrated receiver who'd sooner run over a would-be tackler than sidestep him or slap that defender's helmet in good sportsmanship than beat his own chest. Such selflessness can seem downright antique by today's standards. "Later in that same article, a telling statement was made by Hester, as he related a tale about Black people and their defense of the ownership of the tailback position:
"Still, there have been other instances in which Hester has removed his helmet without meaning to pull a fast one—like when he's trying to towel off the part of him that is most an anachronism: his white face.
"The fact is, in today's game, it's rare to see a white running back playing the role of dominant rusher on a college football team, let alone a national champion. And Hester hears about it. In 2006, after shedding his headgear during a first-quarter timeout against Tennessee, Vols linebacker Jerod Mayo reacted as if he had seen a ghost. Said Mayo to Hester, "Shouldn't you be playing running back for Air Force?' "
Located in Baton Rouge (a city with a majority Black population and a largely Black criminal problem), students enrolled at LSU must contend with Black crime and displaced New Orleans residents criminality:
On a recent morning, Cora Nixon was fussing around in the front yard of her aunt Dorothy Hamilton's home on America Street. A native of New Orleans, herself black, Nixon scrunches her face when talking about the Katrina effect in Baton Rouge.
"I hate to say it -- we're all black Americans -- but I had to bolt up my house. Ain't nobody ever tried to break in my house before."
She is talking about before the Katrina evacuees arrived.
"They done gave so much to the storm people," she says. "It's not all just money. I'm talking about housing, too."
She points to the padlock on her aunt's gate. "You see this big old padlock? My aunt needs it. They done stole her barbecue pit from the backyard."It wasn't that long ago that the elected officials in Louisiana (instead of inviting rappers like Hurricane Chris to perform in the halls of the Louisiana House of Representative) were passing laws to keep all-white LSU from playing integrated teams:
Before the storm, the police department here was averaging about 500 calls a day. That number has jumped to about 800.
...in July of 1956, the Louisiana State assembly passed a social segregation law that banned all integrated sporting events in the state. Louisiana Governor Earl Long, brother of the legendary Huey Long, signed the ball into law soon after.
In 1972, LSU finally integrated its football team. Yes, 1972.
The University of Wisconsin had not overtly faced Southern Jim Crow athletic policies since the cancellation of a track meet at the University of Missouri in 1939. The Badgers, however, prior to the passage of the new Louisiana state law, had negotiated a home-and-home football contract with Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for 1957 and 1958.
In the mid-1950s, the Badger football team routinely featured numerous African-American players, and, in fact, Sidney Williams, a black quarterback, piloted the 1957 football team, which would have been the first to play against LSU. Recognizing the incompatibility of an integrated football team with Louisiana's new strict segregation law, the UW athletic administration immediately took action.
Within days of Gov. Long signing the bill in July, Badger Athletic Director Ivan Williamson announced that the University was canceling its contract with LSU. According to the official statement of the athletic department, the new law "would have the effect of denying to the University of Wisconsin the privilege of selecting the members of its team without regard to race or color in any contest played in Louisiana."
The statement further declared that Wisconsin had "always entered into contract[s]... on the basis that each school would have complete freedom to select its team members." Since the new Louisiana law "interfered with this traditional basic policy of freedom of selection," the University continued, it "forc[ed] a termination of the contract." [For the full text of the UW's statement, click here]
The local community roundly praised and supported the UW's action in refusing to abide Louisiana's Jim Crow stance. The Wisconsin State Journal argued that "most Wisconsin residents share our view that any other action by our great state university would have been a violation of the traditions which have made it world famous."
The newspaper compared Louisiana's segregationists to an "obnoxious little boy" and finished with a flourish, declaring that, "many southerners have protested [that] the U.S. Supreme Court decision on segregation is an invasion of their so-called 'state rights.' We feel the same way about the University of Wisconsin's right to pick its own football lineup."
The Daily Cardinal went even further, decrying the "intemperate piece of legislation" which forbid inter-racial athletics. The student newspaper lauded the University's "determination... to eliminate the negro's 'second class citizenship'... and all traces of discrimination and intolerance among whites."
Wisconsin was the first of many northern colleges and universities to cancel athletic contests in Louisiana because of the state's new law. Marquette University, for example, pulled out of a scheduled basketball game with Loyola University of New Orleans soon after the UW's action.
In 1958, a federal judge threw out the Louisiana law banning integrated athletic contests. The United States Supreme Court upheld this decision a year later, but many Southern universities continued to resist integration. Louisiana State did not fully comply with court orders mandating desegregation until 1964, and the school did not suit up an African-American football player until 1973. Nevertheless, despite the slow pace of integration, high profile events like the UW football controversy brought needed attention to the cause of civil rights.
The University of Wisconsin finally traveled to Baton Rouge to play LSU in the Fall of 1972 several years after Louisiana's Jim Crow laws were off the books. It was UW's first game in the South since the 1950s.
LSU fans at Tiger Droppings (tigerdroppings.com) now brag about what integration did for their team, without acknowledging the academic shortcomings of the Black athlete-students they are allowing on campus. Interesting, the New York Times published an article in 2004 that profiled the "Scholars and Ballers" program started at LSU to help academically-challenged Black athlete-students stay eligible:
Leonard Moore has a Ph.D. in history from Ohio State, is the director of African and African American studies at Louisiana State and has command of enough clear-eyed maxims to get the attention of most college students. But the credentials that most impress his target audience of African-American student-athletes are his high school transcript and ACT test score.
They are modest, if not downright poor: a 1.6 grade point average from Cleveland Heights High School in Ohio and a 15 on the ACT college entrance examination. If he were an athlete coming out of high school today, Moore tells L.S.U.'s African-American athletes, he could not qualify for a spot on any college team, let alone the L.S.U. football team that will play for the Bowl Championship Series title on Sunday night.
It is an eye-opening introduction, but one that is quickly followed up by a challenge from Moore: ''Learning and education is cool, and I expect you to become a good student.''
When L.S.U. (12-1) meets Oklahoma (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl, Moore will not be on the sideline or even in the Superdome, but his impact will be felt nonetheless. Chad Lavalais, L.S.U.'s all-American defensive end, will be thinking about him.
Lavalais, a 24-year-old senior, said that his high school record was worse than Moore's and that it took him at least five tries at the ACT over two years to qualify for an athletic scholarship. He spent part of that time working as a prison guard at a correctional facility near his home in Marksville, La., before being admitted to L.S.U. in 2000. Since then, Lavalais has worked as hard in the classroom as he has on his game, and he is on track to graduate next summer with an education degree.
''Dr. Moore is one of those people who can change your life by raising the expectations you have of yourself,'' Lavalais said. ''He doesn't care if you have a 10-sack game. If you're doing bad in class, that is all you're going to hear.''
That is exactly what Moore, 32, intended when he arrived in Baton Rouge in 1998 and found that the Tigers were not only losing, but that many of their African-American athletes were in trouble inside and outside the classroom.
''There was an outlaw, dumb-jock, sports-first culture that nobody was really discouraging,'' Moore said in a telephone interview this week. ''I wanted these young men to know that those days were over.''
He asked the academic support staff in the athletic department to urge athletes to take his classes and, along with three colleagues, set up a mentoring program for L.S.U.'s African-American athletes. Those who signed up for his introduction to African-American studies class found out quickly that he would not be handing out passing grades. Josh Reed, a standout wide receiver who is now with the Buffalo Bills, did poorly, but he thought enough of the experience to send Moore a letter.
''I know I didn't learn much about African-American history,'' said Reed's letter, which Moore keeps in his office, ''but I learned a lot about being a man.''
Learning to be a man in Moore's curriculum is often a loud, confrontational experience. Earlier this semester, after he noticed that wide receiver Amp Hill missed a class, Moore showed up at his dorm room and gave him 30 minutes of tough love. Hill had dropped the class, but the bracing treatment by Moore helped turn his academic life around. Hill was recently named one of the student-athletes of the month by the Academic Center, a new program for L.S.U.'s athletes.
Lionel Turner, the starting middle linebacker, has listened to Moore's harangues about how an athlete who can make split-second decisions on what defense to play must have a mind agile enough to become a lawyer. So Turner, a junior, said he had buckled down in his studies and was now thinking about postgraduate work.
''Dr. Moore is all about business,'' Turner said with a smile. ''I've seen him call out people in class, and you don't want to have that done to you.''
Moore's vision for a complete L.S.U. football player received a boost when Nick Saban became coach before the 2000 season. Saban spearheaded the building of the $15 million Academic Center, with a full-time staff of 13 and more than 100 computers. Since 2002, Moore and three colleagues have mentored 95 percent of L.S.U.'s black athletes, holding an annual workshop for freshmen called ''The Scholar-Baller Blueprint for Academic Success.''
''When I have a problem with a student and notify the coaching staff, they get on it immediately,'' Moore said.
L.S.U.'s graduation rate for football players remains low -- 40 percent, according to the most recent N.C.A.A. figures, which are for 1996-97 graduation rates -- but Moore sees the culture changing. He points to Lavalais, who he said never missed Moore's 7:30 a.m. class this semester even though he is certain to be a National Football League draft pick.Many people believe LSU will complete for the 2011 national title, and Tiger Stadium will be rocking most of the season with more than 92,000 predominately white students, alumni, and LSU fans cheering a team that is hardly representative of those same people. They will more accurately represent Grambling or Southern, two HBCU's.
According to LSU, diversity is a core objective of the university and athletic program:
Diversity as a philosophy, objective and goal is evident through LSU's Diversity Statement, Commitment to Community and Flagship Agenda. The LSU athletics and band programs have made great strides to enhance diversity, as the athletic program is now comprised of 35 percent ethnic minorities and 39 percent women. Additionally, the athletic program, along with the NCAA, has made diversity and cultural awareness a primary objective. Jade Bryan became LSU athletics' first assistant director for Diversity, Inclusion and Civic Engagement in the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes, offering opportunities for coaches and athletic administrators to gain diversity training.If that is the case, why does the football team start 18 Black players? Not exactly living up to the concept of diversity, unless you understand that the principle of "diversity" means replacing white people with as many non-whites as possible.
Speaking of diverse, LSU's Black starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson recently was suspended for engaging in a bar fight which found him ultimately charged with second degree battery. Police initially said that players questioned in the beating were cooperative and they were forced to take an unusual amount of evidence from Jefferson's room to ascertain whether or not press charges:
Baton Rouge Police took the shoes from LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson's feet and 48 other pairs during a search of his apartment Wednesday night related to an investigation of Jefferson's involvement in a bar fight a week ago near the LSU campus.Forty-nine pairs of Nike shoes? And people say that college athletes should be paid...
"During the execution of the search warrant at the home of Jordan Jefferson, police seized 49 pairs of (athletic) shoes, including the ones he was wearing at the time," police spokesman Don Stone said Thursday morning. "At this time, Baton Rouge Police are not going to release the details as to why the shoes were removed from the home."
Speaking in general terms about evidence searched for in the aftermath of fights Wednesday night after the search, Stone said police often look for clothes with blood or other markings or prints on them. Police also took a DNA swab from Jefferson during the search, Stone said.
Jefferson is one of four players who have been implicated for their involvement in the fight that occurred at about 2 a.m. Friday at the Shady's Bar near campus that sent four non-players to the hospital. They were released within hours, but one of the injured has three fractured vertebrae and another has bruises on his face and hands possibly from self defense, Baton Rouge Police Chief Dwayne White said.
LSU (and America) has come a long way since Billy Cannon returned a punt 89 yards for LSU against Ole Miss on Halloween night in 1959.
Was it necessarily for the better?
No. This article from Sports Illustrated in 1969 perfectly sums up what college football once represented in the south:
Governor McKeithen has a forceful personality, and in Louisiana a governor, even one in a beige jumpsuit, can, if he chooses, exercise powers approximating those of the Shah of Iran and Boss Tweed combined. So it is best not to argue when he says, " Baton Rouge is the greatest football town in America, my fren'. Columbus, Ohio, don't even come close to the spirit we got right heah in this li'l ol' country town. Football season is the social season, and politics don't even come close. When you see football at LSU, you see a spectacle, my fren'. A real spectacle!"Now, many of LSU's Black players come from outside of the state. Many of the LSU students will be forgiven if they confuse these Black athlete-students with animals when they see them on campus, brought to Baton Rouge for one reason: to play football.
The reason for such a profound commitment to football is not terribly complex. For one thing, except for a journey to New Orleans—which is roughly to Baton Rouge what Paris is to Gary, Ind.—there is not all that much to do in Louisiana once the sun sets over the swamps. So why not fill in the dark hours with football games? Why not, indeed. Louisiana high school football, played almost exclusively at night, pulls enormous crowds. Newspapers such as the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate spend five or six full pages each Saturday on stories dealing with Opelousas vs. Lafayette and Ponchatoula vs. Destrehan. Of LSU's 19,500 students, 88% are from Louisiana. Thus, as LSU's genial coach Charlie McClendon puts it, "Our players go to college with boys they knew in high school. These kids know the athletes aren't animals, and they admire them. That's why there is better spirit here than anyplace I know. In the stadium the excitement is like an electric wire running from the stands to the field."