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A faculty request to remove Adolph Rupp’s name from the Kentucky basketball arena leads to ‘complicated’ discussion

Just before we ended our conversation, I asked Professor Derrick White if there was anything we hadn’t discussed and wanted to make sure it was discussed. His reply began with, “There are other points in this request.”

When the faculty of the University of Kentucky African American and Africana Studies Department wrote President Eli Capiluoto, they indeed made ten suggestions to improve the race relationships and experience for on-campus African-Americans. However, everyone involved had to be aware that the other nine would be overwhelmed by their call to rename Rupp Arena.

In a publicity battle between high-profile sports and important educational concerns, sports win every time. There is a legion of politicians who have acknowledged this and pushed the stage by pretending to be interested in peer athletics issues or betting one of those fake championship bets.

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I wish that the faculty’s comments on obliging all UK students to take a “Race and Inequality” course and recruiting more black teachers and staff in leadership positions should receive more attention. Since the call to remove Adolph Rupp’s name from the building in which the Wildcats play their home games will not only spark more interest, it is also the only item most up for debate.

Was Adolph Rupp such a horrific racist who justified the same posthumous treatment as a Southern leader like Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson?

White’s response to Sporting News, in one word: Yes.

He points out “countless accounts that Adolph Rupp used the N word.” He quotes that no African American played for Rupp in Kentucky before Thomas Payne arrived in the UK in 1969, while Perry Wallace broke the color line of Southeastern Conference basketball in 1967 and arrived on Vanderbilt campus in 1966, the same year Nate Northington moved Enrolled in Kentucky to become the Wildcats’ first black footballer.

“The evidence is pretty clear that although not a virulent, likely segregationist, Adolph Rupp was actually the most powerful coach in basketball and one of the slowest to desegregate his team in the SEC,” White told SN. “If you look at it in a total context, we see that there is a tremendous amount of evidence.”

Matthew Maurer’s response to Sporting News, in one word: No.

It is the context of the discussion that bothers Maurer, an NBA design and basketball historian who publishes his work on TheDraftReview.com.

Maurer said that long before he recruited Payne to visit the UK, Rupp worked hard to sign Wes Unseld in 1964, well before Wallace’s accession to the SEC. Unseld chose to sign with Louisville, who played against integrated teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, and later said he did not believe he had the temperament to be a pioneer and deal with racist abuse that was sure to waiting was at SEC road races.

A year later, Rupp pursued the observatory Butch Beard. The great Frank Deford, who wrote in Sports Illustrated, described the UK as “falling all over himself” to recruit Beard. Instead, he chose to join Unseld with the Cardinals.

Had he landed Unseld, Rupp would not have taken the floor in the 1966 NCAA Championship game with an all-white starting five against the all-black Texas Western lineup. Because Unseld would have defeated someone. Everybody.

If UK had lost to Duke in the 1966 semifinal, it would have been Vic Bubas who had lined up an all-white team in that final, an event that played a key role in gaining a reputation as a racist at Rupp and was ignited by how he was portrayed in the 2006 movie about that game, “Glory Road”.

“I see both sides of the argument. My thing is, I always try to put myself in the context of the time. I think for every white man born in 1901 in the deep South, by 2020 standards, you probably think racist would be considered, “Maurer told SN.” But there were things Rupp could say very hard to say he was a racist to his peers. It has been documented that he had coaching clinics and taught some of the black high school coaches in that area.

“I think if you asked racists in 1960 if Rupp was a racist, they’d probably say no. He never showed himself to be a friend of racists. If he was a true racist, then the civil rights era was his time to shine. And we have no evidence that he behaves this way. ‘

Rupp essentially invented Kentucky basketball. Hired by the school in 1930, he remained head coach until 1972, winning 876 games, which remained a record for 25 years until it was passed by Dean Smith in North Carolina. Rupp won four NCAA championships and reached the Final Four six times. He died in 1977, not long after the opening of Rupp Arena.

Dick Gabriel is a UK graduate who spent two decades as a sports anchor on the Lexington market and now hosts a sports talk program there. He admits that he has accepted the general impression of Rupp as a racist for years; he wasn’t particularly excited to have that plague on the program he followed as a child.

Years later, he received a newspaper article from Tom Leach, the voice of Kentucky athletics, about Rupp, showing an interest in recruiting African-American Kentucky high school star Jim Tucker in 1950.

“I said,” Wait a minute. This is not correct, ” Gabriel told SN.

High school sports in Kentucky were divorced until 1956, but Rupp went on to see Tucker play at the 1950 Black State tournament in Frankfurt and pledged to recommend that he coach friends in the North. Rupp called Duquesne and Tucker became a two-time All-American and later became one of the first black players to win an NBA championship.

What Gabriel learned about Rupp in that article prompted him to conduct more extensive research, and he began that work a 2005 documentary, “Adolph Rupp: Myth, Legend and Fact.” And there were some amazing revelations.

According to the film, Rupp proposed that Kentucky leave the SEC in the early 1960s and compete as an independent so that he would have the freedom to recruit black players. The SEC had a “gentleman’s agreement” not to recruit them. Many independent programs flourished then, especially Catholic schools such as Marquette, Dayton and Notre Dame. The British president refused Rupp’s request.

Gabriel said that not only did Rupp recruit Beard and Unseld before Payne signed up, but the coach looked at Unseld 14 times, which is 14 more than he ever saw British top man Dan Issel. Rupp also wanted future All-American Jim McDaniels in 1967; McDaniels told British legend Mike Pratt that he chose Western Kentucky because it was clear the Hilltoppers wanted him more – they bought him a car.

“When this documentary first came out, there was quite a bit of reaction and response, but it was nothing like the now,” said Gabriel. “I had expected a bit more debate and back and forth and controversy back then.”

He said an African-American friend who watched said, “Now I know who the real villains are.”

Some of Rupp’s friends and boosters have had an intervention to prevent him from signing Wes Unseld. Those were the villains, ”said Gabriel. “The night before Tom Payne’s first game, they were in his hotel room until 4am trying to keep him off. ‘

Gabriel said he has no doubt that Rupp used inappropriate language. He said he is uncomfortable as the defender of Rupp’s legacy, only want those who participate in the debate to be aware of the facts and not just of the reputation.

“As a journalist, I wanted to tell a story,” said Gabriel, “and now I’m burdened with many people who point their fingers at the African American community and say,” You people. “And I am not.

“Everything that happens and sparks public debate is a good thing. Our history as it is taught is whitewashed. Anything that can open people’s minds is good.”

White said he viewed Rupp’s efforts on behalf of Tucker as an aid to sustaining segregation in the south. He did not deny Gabriel’s claim that Rupp lobbied for UCLA’s Don Barksdale to become the U.S. Olympic team’s first black basketball player in 1948, but said Barksdale was dealing with divorced facilities while a team member and that Rupp did not use that experience at the Olympics Games of ’48 to come back and argue strongly and use his position “to promote desegregation.

“In the 1960s,” said White, “Rupp had survived a point shave scandal – how many coaches in the 1950s survived the point shave scandal and continued to coach? – and with this kind of power and administrative support refuses to sign.” a black player?

White said Rupp’s search for Unseld was essentially designed to fail because “ the history of recruiting black players in the South in the 1960s almost required them to be recruited in pairs. Because who would he live with? Who would be his roommate? They had 25 scholarships in 1964, 15 of them were registered, they had 11 scholarships to use, and the only black player they offered was Wes Unseld. … I see this as a half-hearted attempt to recruit Wes Unseld. ‘

White grew up in Lexington and received his Ph.D. in the state of Ohio and has written three books, including one on Black College Football and Florida A&M coach Jake Gaither “Blood Sweat Tears.” He returned to Kentucky from Dartmouth to become Professor of History and African American and Africana Studies.

“When we talk to each other, they tell us the same kind of stories about Adolph Rupp,” White said. It is well known that the kind of racism that pervaded this campus was a big part of it.

“My argument is that the point is not that this is a point of contention. It’s about being a progressive university, ”said White. He said the department has no intention of “erasing” Rupp’s legacy as a basketball coach. His banner would still remain in the arena. His victories would not be erased from the record books. His titles will be there. But we have a fair settlement and accounting.

“If we can’t see these men, mostly men, with the kind of critical lens we’re trying to tell our students to use in their work and their scholarship and their learning – if we don’t apply the same lens to Rupp – then we do a disservice to our students, and we do a particularly disservice to our black students and students of color. “

It is an engaging discussion, while undoubtedly present in the document presented by the faculty of the African American and Africana department at the university, it hides their broader points of representation and progress for minorities on the UK campus.

One thing White said in our conversation that both sides can agree on is, “The historical record is complicated.”

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