Lingering racial tensions have made their mark on South Carolina sports for years, notably in the NCAA ban on all postseason games in the state in response to the Confederate flag that flies on statehouse grounds, occasionally exercised for conference tournaments as well. The latest protest, though, is coming from within the state's own borders, by members of the legislature -- including a former South Carolina player -- who have begun encouraging black recruits to renege on their commitment to the Gamecocks in opposition to the pending exit of the only black member of the university's board of trustees:
State Rep. David Weeks, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he doesn't think there are enough votes in the Legislature to get lawyer Leah B. Moody appointed to a full term on the 22-member board next month. She is the board's only black member and is finishing the term of a trustee who resigned before pleading guilty to bank fraud.
"We are asking young athletes to be aware … there are folks in this state who say it's fine to play ball but not be on the governing board," Weeks said.
He and several other lawmakers, including former Gamecocks lineman Anton Gunn, a black Democrat from Columbia, said members of the black community were calling recruits and their families and asking them to rethink playing for the school. [...]
Lawmakers would not say how many recruits had been called or whether any were reconsidering their commitments. They also would not identify the callers.
Taking the fight to the football team seems like the last, desperate blow in an ongoing fight over the makeup of the board, which significantly underrepresents South Carolina's black population even with one member. About 11 percent of the university's student body is black, according to South Carolina's largest newspaper, The (Columbia) State, as opposed to about 28.5 percent of the state's population at large. Locally, the battle over that seat has simmered for months, but as a Southern native I say with confidence: If you want to increase the awareness of citizens in any ex-Confederate state about any subject -- even race -- taking it to the gridiron will never fail. (Earning sympathy for the cause is another matter. But people will pay attention -- see comments below if you're lucky enough to get here before I have to turn them off.)
Gunn told The State that All-American running back Marcus Lattimore, the top-rated high school player in the state last year and arguably the most hyped Gamecock recruit in coach Steve Spurrier's six-year tenure at USC, was among the incoming players contacted, though apparently no recruit or current player has made any public indication he's reconsidering his decision. (At least one, linebacker Brandon Golston, hasn't received any calls, according to his high school coach.) Odds are, none will: Players who have already signed letters of intent to attend USC in the fall (which is every player) would have to receive a release from the school, and would lose a season of eligibility if they transferred to another I-A team -- the NCAA, despite its own stances on certain subjects, is presumably not anxious to get in the habit of granting political waivers to its usual rules.
As a blow to the prospects of the South Carolina football team, then, the damage is almost certainly nil. As political theater, it might fare a little better. But as a legitimate political appeal for better representation on the board of trustees, it may be the only option left, however farfetched or -- speaking pragmatically -- likely to backfire.
And its effects on traditional levels of hate directed at Clemson? Well, some divisions are too important to be left to the squalid realms of race and politics.
[UPDATE, 7:28 p.m. ET] For what it's worth, Rep. Anton Gunn -- the former Gamecock player referenced in the Associated Press account -- took to his Twitter account to stress that he has not and "will not talk [to] any recruit about anything related to this very political USC Board of Trustees race."
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Hat tip: CFT.
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