Taking A Stand

Phillip Marshall's column is featured twice a week for Tiger Ticket subscribers.

This is not about political correctness. It's not about freedom of speech or any of those things. It's about right and wrong. What a few fraternity boys did Halloween night was wrong. It was very wrong.

You know the story by now. You know about the sick pictures that were posted on the Internet by the photography company.

I guess these guys thought it would be funny to dress up like a black man and a KKK member, to pose with a nose around one of their necks. It wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all. It makes you wonder if those guys were taught any values at all. And now others must deal with the wreckage they left. In one night, they managed to do terrible damage to Auburn's image and to make black students on campus less comfortable.

The fraternities involved already have been suspended. That's a good thing. As this is written, there has been no word on discipline for the students involved or even their names. They need to be publicly identified. After proper procedures are followed, they need to go. Anything less will open the university to nationwide criticism.

As we watched Auburn's basketball team scrimmage, Eugene Harris shook his head sadly as he related a conversation with his teenage daughter about the incident. "She said ‘Daddy, it's 2001, that's not supposed to happen,'" Harris said. "She's a high school junior and I've been trying to talk her into coming to Auburn University to school. She said ‘Daddy, I don't want to be around anything like that.'"

Harris, who came to Auburn as an assistant basketball coach with Cliff Ellis in 1994 and is now an assistant athletic director, knows plenty about racism. He grew up in Scottsboro in the turbulent 1960s. He was one of the first black basketball players ever to play at Scottsboro High School. Racism was exposed at the fraternity party. It remains hidden other places. "I think it's everywhere," Harris said. "When it's right here facing you, you hope they don't really feel like that. I don't think the majority feel like that. It's just a few who did that. It's a reflection on the fraternity. I think it was a few students who got together and probably weren't raised right. They found an opportune time to do something like that. It just happened to be Halloween."

As Auburn's football team prepared for Saturday's crucial game against Georgia, suddenly the questions were about things other than football. Coaches surely will have to answer questions from recruits. Other schools will make certain they see the horrific images from one misguided Halloween party.

Auburn players vowed it would not come between them, and there's no reason to believe it will. "This is the kind of thing that can divide you if you let it," said senior offensive tackle Kendall Simmons. "We're not going to let it happen."

For one who grew up in Birmingham in the turbulent 1960s, the whole thing brought back unhappy memories. It brought back memories of four little girls being killed in a church bombing, memories of hatred on display in so many ways at so many times. I'm thankful that, even when it wasn't popular, my father stood against racism. He taught me to look at every person for who he or she was, that the color of one's skin meant nothing.

I have no idea what it would be like to be black and see the pictures that started this sad episode. I have no idea what it would be like to be turned away from a place or an event because of the color of my skin.

I know it couldn't be easy.

Interim Auburn President William Walker faces the biggest challenge of his young administration. Much is at stake. Strong action is called for, and it's called for quickly.

Moving on to a happier subject…Is there a better rivalry in college football than Auburn-Georgia? It is special because it has all the intensity of the biggest rivalries without the hate. The two teams will get together for the 105th time Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

The series has been amazingly close over the years. In all those games, Georgia has outscored Auburn by a single point, 1,540-1,539. Auburn leads the series 50-46-8.

Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium should fit right in. Both teams have had moments of brilliance and both teams have had their struggles. It will probably be decided by turnovers, as many big games are.

Auburn coaches and players say they've had the season's best week of practice. Twenty-four Auburn players are going home to play. It should be fun. It always is.

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