More at Stake than Football in Grambling State Boycottt
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
This week student-athletes at Grambling State University said enough is enough: refusing to practice and play their scheduled game against Jackson State University, during what was JSU’s Homecoming Weekend. Grambling Sate’s unified group stood up to denounce the lack of voice afforded them, the working conditions under which they practice, and the dangers associated with playing collegiate football at Grambling State University.
Yet, two narratives have emerged in response to the player boycott: that of entitled athletes and the dysfunction of Grambling State University. Deploying longstanding racial stereotypes, anchored by dominant white racial framing, and a narrative that inherently pathologizes and demonizes black bodies, the media discourse has conveniently erased the root issues. Look no further than the comments section, which consistently reflects the “shut up and play” reframe, noting that the student-athletes should be content with “whatever” since without football they would not even be on campus.
At one level, the dismissal of the players’ concerns and their boycott reflects a lack of understanding of collegiate sports. They are protesting their labor conditions, which include: having to purchase Gatorade themselves; being forced to hydrate from a hose under the stadium; 14 & 17 hour bus rides—making being a student and an athlete difficult, if not possible; and team facilities and player equipment covered in mold and mildew. According to a letter from the players, “The uniforms are poorly cleaned and contribute to the multiple cases (of) staph infection. Several players have been infected with staph multiple times.”
Despite media coverage that has for the most part glossed over the specifics, and a surface narrative that instead plays upon that of spoiled (black) student-athletes, the protest is about abysmal work conditions; it is about health and safety. Coverage that frames the story around entitled (black) student-athletes, who don’t deserve to be on a college campus except for football, contributes to a lack of national concern that ignores the broader issues at work.
On another level, the media discourse has focused on “in-fighting” and the “failures” of the administration. Seemingly reducing the issue to “black-on-black” conflict and the incompetence of HBCUs, the national media has erased the systemic contexts in which HBCUs function. Rather the conflict is symptomatic of the divestment from and privatization of education—it’s bigger than Grambling State University.
The state of Grambling football is a window into the larger neglect of higher education in Louisiana as well as the precarious situation facing many HBCUs. The situation at Grambling has everything to do with the decisions of Governor Bobby Jindal and a GOP-led state legislature.
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