A few days after they were forced to forfeit a conference game against Jackson State due to a boycott, the Grambling State Tigers are taking to the practice field again.
The players started the boycott on Oct 16 in protest of what they claimed were deplorable living and training conditions. The Shreveport Times published photos of the run-down athletes' weights room, showing floors with missing tiles that put users at risk of injury.
The flooring was the center of a dispute between ousted coach Doug Williams and university president Frank G. Pogue. Williams allegedly sought private funding for a new floor for the weights room, succeeding in purchasing the needed items, but was called out for not following official procedures. To date, the new floor tiles have not yet been installed at the weights room.
Williams himself had presided over the past nine seasons, including a 2012 season where his team finished 1-10, the worst record in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Tigers are currently 0-8 after their forfeited game against the Jackson State Tigers. After his ouster in September, he was replaced by George Ragsdale, who in turn was replaced by interim head coach Dennis Winston.
Grambling State suffered a 57 per cent overall funding cut over the past few years, including a $335,000 cut for athletics. The football programme experienced a $75,000 cut off its budget of $2 million. The cuts meant that long-needed repairs had to be postponed.
For the players who were used to less-than-stellar conditions, though, the thought of taking a 12-hour bus ride to Mississippi was too much. On Friday afternoon, the Tigers did not show up for the bus ride. Through much of the weekend, it was not even clear if there would be Grambling State football for the rest of the season.
A late-Sunday conversation with Doug Williams changed all that.
"Go out and play football," Williams reportedly told his former charges.
The players said the following in a statement:
"As part of the athletic program at Grambling State University, the football team, took a stance on what we thought was right. We did not quit on our university. There are many problems that exist and if no one says anything, nothing will come of our institution. We hope Coach Eddie Robinson and his legendary players can appreciate that we stood up for what we thought was right. After coming into contact with different sources, we decided to reach out to the one person we trusted, Coach Doug Williams, with our concerns."
Williams set up a meeting with a certain Jim Bernhard who pledged to ensure that the facilities would be upgraded. In exchange, the Tigers had to agree to go back to the field and play the rest of the season.
The Tigers' troubles is just the latest in a series of funding-related fiascos that have long plagued historically black educational institutions. In 2008, ESPN's Dana o'Neil wrote about the sorry state of the Alcorn State Braves basketball team. There have been debates over the status of sports at HBCUs, who have long been the target of funding cuts across higher education.
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