GRAY: LSU battling old issues

It's hard to believe LSU is still grappling with an issue that has surfaced in some form or another every decade since Americans truly began to deal with it back in the 1950s – racism.

The world of sports provides fertile ground for trailblazers to teach lessons of acceptance, tolerance and equality as African-American and white athletes come together on fields of competition in pursuit of the same dream – victory.

 

When hearing that students are marching at LSU in protest of a purple and gold Confederate flag, the hardest thing to understand are the small-minded people who wave it with pride, completely oblivious, and in some cases uncaring, of what it symbolizes for many people. They just don't get it. 

 

It's amazing that Chancellor Sean O'Keefe has to make statements, conduct interviews, hold rallies, etc. to send out the message that LSU, in his words, "does not consider the use of University colors on this flag to be appropriate."

 

To their credit both he and Les Miles spoke loud and clear on this subject. But still, they fly their flags over tailgate parties with righteous indignation. 

 

Other Southern universities deal with state flags and age-old traditions that include the Confederate flag, searching for ways to extricate themselves from a part of their history that doesn't fit in today's world – but no, we have to create our own problems.

 

In a state more rich in cultural diversity than any other in the country, a small group of people created a way to attach the symbol of slavery and racism to LSU sports.  

 

Shame on them. 

 

I remember when this issue first appeared as a licensing question for LSU when purple and gold Confederate flags began to appear in flag shops.  Some hoped the university could simply seize the offending merchandise and prohibit manufacturers from making them.

 

Now students would like the Chancellor to ban their presence on the LSU campus. Those aren't the answers – we're a country founded on principles of free speech and market place. The answer is to make it very clear to those who display these flags that they hurt LSU when they do so, they jeopardize our opportunity to recruit African-American students and athletes to our campus and create an environment that does not truly or favorably represent LSU's image on the national stage.

 

Let's take it one step further.  The Baton Rouge Country Club, with its storied past of not only not having an African-American member, but not even inviting African-Americans to play their golf course as guests of members, is another archaic symbol of Louisiana's Capital City that does nothing to advance LSU's reputation as a national player. 

 

The Baton Rouge Country Club golf course was one of several local courses the LSU golf team would use for practice sessions to gain experience on various courses until it dawned on them in the late 1990s that some day – God forbid – LSU might just have an African-American golfer on its team.  I suppose this would have caused them too much discomfort because the Country Club chose instead to uninvite the LSU Golf Team to use its unspoiled greens.    

 

In a city that just elected its first African-American Mayor-President, can you imagine that we have a country club that bears our city's name whose members still prefer to lock themselves behind closed doors in a white-only world? 

 

The answers to all this?  

 

It takes people like Sean O'Keefe, Les Miles, John Brady, Pokey Chatman and golf coaches Chuck Winstead and Karen Bahnsen. It takes our legacy players like Shaquille O'Neal who has the power to say "LSU is better than this."  You can't just ask Shaq to pose for pictures in his LSU cap and gown or write a big check to underwrite programs for student success, then tell him he's welcome for lunch at the local country club, but please don't wander onto the golf course while you're there.  What are these people thinking?

 

The world spotlight is focused on Louisiana now because natural disasters affected the lives of everyone here. LSU coaches and teams provided leadership in steering the campus through these difficult times. While it is admirable that the Chancellor took the issue of the sad, tired purple and gold Confederate flag on strongly, everyone knows that more minds can be influenced and persuaded to do the right thing when asked by coaches, athletes and sports heroes. 

 

Ridding LSU, Baton Rouge and Louisiana of the stigma of racism is a worthy fight for all to join. If we truly want to have a nationally prominent university, a great American city, a state that lives up to the potential of its people and jobs to keep LSU students at home, we're just going to have to use some common sense here. 

 

Even the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce has called on local businesses to adopt non-discrimination practices that include not only race, but sexual orientation, as essential to economic development. 

 

Our coaches' abilities to recruit the best student-athletes to LSU are the lifeblood of a successful athletic program. It's important to listen to what these protesting students are saying. You may not agree with the way they express themselves, but we better hear the message loud and clear.

 

The greatest injustice we can deliver to African-American student-athletes is to tell them Baton Rouge welcomes them to carry the ball in pursuit of championships for LSU, but not at our tailgate parties or country club courses. 

 

They deserve better from us.

 

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Rannah Gray is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag magazine. Reach her at Rannah@cox.net.


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