Grambling Controversy Is a Referendum on Small Market Football, and That's All
This weekend saw Grambling State University forfeit a football game to Jackson State due to an all-out player boycott. The situation began with players walking out of a meeting with the school's administration the Tuesday before Saturday's game and skipping that Wednesday's practice, as reported by the Shreveport Times.
Grambling's issue is a referendum on the state of some less-funded schools—not a platform to stump on the ills of what happens if players stand up for themselves.
While so much time is focused on the "haves" of the college football world, there are schools struggling, and at times failing, to make ends meet. For those familiar with historically black colleges and universities, the problem of "not having" is nothing new. The same goes for those who understand lower-division football and the bottom end of the FCS ranks.
What's worse is when those working for what should be a common goal cannot make it work on the limited budget. Whether it is ineptitude or politics—both in this instance, according to the Shreveport Times—forcing athletes to work without the proper tools is never a good thing. In the case of Grambling, the athletes' disgust with conditions manifested itself in the boycott.
Weight-room equipment in various states of disrepair; improper ceiling and flooring setups; players purchasing their own Gatorade instead of drinking the water from a community hose that was provided. The letter obtained by ESPN from the Grambling players also details mold, mildew and staph infections.
Mold and mildew claims were refuted by a TSPN-obtained copy of the inspection report. However, the pictures displayed by HBCU Gameday from current Tigers defensive back Naquan Smith did speak to substandard conditions. Throw in the excessive busing and the missed meals on trips and Grambling's players certainly had a reason for their actions.
Yet upon hearing these things, the reaction from many people was to worry if their favorite sport or if their favorite team possessed players with the will to stand up for feeling mistreated. There were people shouting for the players to fall in line and just play, when these young men had a legitimate cause.
There is so much fear of players standing up for themselves and what it might to do to college football that the issues of an underfunded school were swept aside for a talking point. A talking point that was against the better treatment of the student-athletes subjected to the substandard conditions. A talking point so markedly selfish and narrow-minded that there were people who advocated pulling scholarships to force the athletes to play.
The reality is that this is a real problem, and by boycotting Saturday's game, the Grambling State players set the problem at the nation's front door. But instead of picking it up off the front stoop, digesting the issue and recognizing the real problem, many tossed it aside and considered it as athletes getting out of their place, with everyone hoping no other athletes would follow suit.
Schools all over battle this issue, while perhaps not as serious as Grambling's case. While everyone focuses on getting a scholarship or playing a sport as the privilege, the same should hold true for colleges and athletic departments.
With decreasing funding at the federal and state level, shrinking donor support and poorly managed financial decisions, having athletic programs has to become a privilege as well. Getting a chance to play collegiate athletics only counts as a positive if your experience is worthwhile. Substandard conditions and health risks certainly do not make the case for these players being "the lucky ones."
It does not have to be about pushing to strip down athletics at the lower levels, but rather asking people to manage finances and assess situations realistically. Grambling is an extreme case, but the bottom of the FBS ranks are loaded with schools operating on thin budgets, exemplified by ESPN reporting that New Mexico State was asking for fan donations for team snacks a couple of seasons ago.
Budget cuts are the becoming more the norm. When miscommunication, mismanagement and politics get added to the mix, things go from bad to worse. At Grambling, student-athletes caught in the middle decided to make their voices heard.
Hopefully, the message becomes more clear; having an athletics department is a major responsibility and part of accepting that charge is providing the proper tools to the kids being asked to provide the blood and sweat.
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