It was Oct., 2007, and University of South Florida offensive tackle Walter Walker read a column online written by LZ Granderson of ESPN.com.
The story shouted to him. It was a story about that societal lightning rod, the "N-word." Yes, that "N-word," the "N-word" that slurs race and divides our country. Granderson wrote how it is too often used so very casually in college and professional football locker rooms.
It hit home with Walker and, in turn, he took an active stance to rid the USF football program of the "N-word." His efforts were chronicled by Tampa Tribune sports writer Brett McMurphy, who has covered the USF football program since its inception.
"Being a sociology major, these things are close to my heart," Walker said. "These issues of humanity, the human condition, I think ought to be important to everyone. We live here. We are human. To treat or say things to somebody just because they don't look like you, these kind of issues are important and I felt in my heart, God placed it in my heart to say something," McMurphy wrote in his story about Walker.
Walker gained national attention for USF in a good way with his powerful stance and even Granderson became a fan of USF and Walker in particular when he learned of the football player's actions.
Fast forward to Monday, August 10, 2009.
McMurphy witnessed something ugly at a USF summer practice. Four-star recruit Ryne Giddins brought the "N-word" back into the USF football program. The former Tampa Armwood star was locked up in a contact drill with freshman offensive lineman John McGhin and McMurphy recorded what happened on his USF blog at TBO.com:
"You have a lot of things—mostly profanity—on the USF practice fields when Bulls compete in "board drills," McMurphy reported. "They're basically an offensive and defensive player lining up in a three-point stance and going head-to-head until one is drove into the ground or wrestled to the ground...."
"Seconds later a highly-emotional Ryne Giddins battles with freshman John McGhin. After a few seconds of knocking helmets, Giddins, a freshman defensive end from Armwood, shoved McGhin, screaming: 'I've never been underrated! I've never been underrated! I've never been underrated!' Each time, Giddins, who is black, followed it up by calling McGhin, who is white, a mixture of F-bombs and racial slurs usually directed at blacks."
McMurphy confirmed that those "racial slurs" were the volatile "N-word."
Head coach Jim Leavitt's official response:
"It's an internal matter."
A weak stance and statement at best.
USF athletic director Doug Woolard's response?
Woolard gave no response and deferred to Leavitt through USF assistant AD Chris Freet.
Woolard ran for cover and dove straight into the foxhole of non-comment.
Neither learned anything from Walter Walker's 2007 stance on an unpopular subject.
And that's a shame.
Leavitt is the highest-paid football coach in the Big East Conference and the highest-paid employee at the university.
Leavitt's only focus is preparing his team for its Sept. 5 season opener against powerhouse Wofford. He didn't deem it necessary to take a stance as Walker, his former player, did.
And that's a shame.
Although Leavitt declared the incident "an internal matter," he immediately handled it externally by banning all media from practices. Previously, the first 30 minutes of practices were open to the media and that's when McMurphy saw and heard what he saw and heard.
It was the easy thing for Leavitt to do by getting the media away from his team. That way, if this were to happen again, no one will know and it's another dirty little family secret that can be hidden under the turf of the practice fields.
University President Judy Genshaft also chose to take no stance on the incident.
There was no comment from the president's office when an official request was made by phone and again submitted via email.
Whatever happened to higher learning? Whatever happened to educational institutions standing up and speaking out against what is wrong?
With all the MBAs and PhDs floating around the campus, no one, not Leavitt, not Woolard and not their boss, USF President Genshaft, could see the importance of taking a stance and confirming that what Walter Walker did two years ago was the right thing, the proper thing, the best thing for USF.
How hard would it have been for Leavitt and Woolard to issue a combined statement to this effect?
"There is no place in the USF football program or any area of the athletic program for that type of behavior. There is no place on our university campus for that type of behavior. We have met as a team and can assure everyone that this was a one-time incident and it will not happen again."
That's what Leavitt and Woolard should have said.
They didn't, and that's a shame.
Genshaft could have said:
"I have met personally with Coach Leavitt and Doug Woolard and they have assured me that this has been taken care of. It was wrong, it is unacceptable behavior for our athletes and students at USF and it will not happen again."
She should have said that, but didn't.
And that's a shame.
Ignoring racial slurs anywhere, particularly on a college campus, is not a good thing.
And that's an understatement.
Someone should have followed Walter Walker's lead from two years ago and taken a stand.
But they didn't.
And that's a crying shame.