Mural of Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason sparks racial controversy

Mural of Vandy coaches

Vandy Mural

Mural of Vandy coaches

A mural of new Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason is getting a facelift after students petitioned that the supposed likeness be changed.

Mason, who came from Stanford to replace James Franklin, was the latest addition to a mural on the side of a building that was once a collegiate gear store and now houses a wireless store. Faces of Vanderbilt coaches have graced the wall since 1991.

Mason told the Nasville Tennessean that he doesn't "believe the painting is representative of me, personally."

"But if that's somebody's depiction then so be it," he said. "There are still freedoms that are still allowed in this country, but when I look at it I don't think that's an accurate depiction of me."

We agree with coach Mason, but you be the judge:

The Vanderbilt NAACP gained signatures on campus and through an online petition to get the mural changed. Muralist Michael Cooper declined to comment to the Tennessean, but Akailah Jenkins, president of the Vanderbilt chapter of the NAACP, told the paper what anyone looking at the painting was probably thinking.

"We realized it was reminiscent of the minstrelsy era in which black people's skin was darkened and their lips were made whiter in order to exaggerate their race in order to put them in a sharp contrast with the white race," Jenkins told the paper.

"In the mural his skin is black, not brown, and his lips are white. It doesn't look like him."

Fant Smith, who commissioned the mural for $2,500, said she wasn't immediately aware of the controversy, but agreed to make the change.

"The last thing we want is a mural that the Vanderbilt community is not happy with, so we're going to get it updated and hopefully everybody will be happy," Smith told The Tennessean.

Vanderbilt’s NAACP actually reached out to Cooper twice before starting the petition and received no response from the artist. While there’s no timetable on when the mural would be changed, Fant Smith, a Vanderbilt fan, who commissioned the $2,500 painting of Mason, said changes would be made to the painting soon.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at or follow her on Twitter

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