Last weekend people were blowing up my phone and email with the news that Grambling’s football players and members of the marching band had refused to compete in Jackson State University’s homecoming game.
If you didn’t hear the story (and how could you have missed it?), only 22 players showed up to board the bus to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were scheduled to play on Saturday, October 19. Jackson State officials announced the cancellation of the game and that tickets would be refunded. Now, a lawsuit from Jackson State against Grambling is a possibility.
The media was all over it. A spokesman, GSU safety Naquan Smith, explained some of the team’s grievances including the school’s poor conditions, the long bus rides and, of course, the firing of former coach Doug Williams, who is also reportedly suing Grambling.
I’m sure those were very real concerns, but the problems at Grambling go much deeper. In fact, asking to clean up the athletic facilities and rehire Doug Williams would be like putting a band aid on the forehead of a severe migraine sufferer.
Grambling, like most HBCUs, is in big trouble. But public colleges in Louisiana have it worse than some others. They have been hit with budget cuts resulting from Gov. Bobby Jindal eliminating $690 million in state funding from colleges and universities.
Grambling’s President Frank Pogue, who has been doing damage control throughout the ordeal, tried to get to the heart of the problem on our show. “It’s not the football team, it’s money,” he told Roland Martin. The school is bleeding out to the point that they’re on the verge of financial exigency—meaning the university’s funds may be insufficient to support its academic programs, pay its faculty or both. This means the school’s very existence is at stake.
The revolt by the football team actually gave President Pogue a national platform that I hope will lead to some serious action and not just more talk about financial problems plaguing HBCUs. Southern University, Fisk, Wilberforce, Howard, Florida Memorial, just to name a few, are all hurting for all kinds of things including payroll, keeping existing academic programs going or establishing new ones, building maintenance, operational costs, and on and on and on.