It hasn’t been a banner year for Oklahoma football. Damage control has been uttered far too often regarding OU. The Sooners were expected to be a top team in the 2014 season but finished a disappointing 8-5 that included losses in the final two games.
The coaches had to hit the recruiting trail hard to do damage control, to convince uncommitted prospects to come to Norman and make sure those already pledged would stay with the Sooners.
It wasn’t an easy task, but OU managed to do well with 24 signees and a class ranked No. 14 by Scout for 2015.
Needing a change, Bob Stoops nearly cleaned out the entire coaching staff. The Sooners will be welcoming four new coaches and have reassigned others in their responsibilities.
Stoops did all he could in the last month to assure 2016 recruits that everything would be OK in Norman now and in the future. The Sooners even had a junior day without a defensive line coach, but it felt like the Sooners had absorbed the worst of the blow.
However, this is a different kind of damage control facing Stoops, the players, the program and the university. This damage, caused by a 10-second racist video that went viral Sunday, has caused more damage than all of the other on the field and off the field transgressions combined.
In the video that was purportedly made by an OU fraternity, a racist chant was uttered with lines including “there will never be a n----r in SAE” and also condoning lynching.
The fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, was disbanded and condemned by University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren. The university has taken swift, decisive action. The damage, significant damage, has already been done.
“The only way you stop it is to have zero tolerance,” said Boren on Monday night on CNN. “Sooners are not racists. They’re not bigots. They are people who respect each other.
The OU football program made a statement of its own Monday by walking arm-in-arm, praying together and leaving OU’s indoor practice facility. The Sooners were scheduled to practice Monday afternoon, but team captains came to the conclusion some things are bigger than football. Bob Stoops and the rest of the OU coaches agreed.
OU athletes in multiple sports peaceably protested Monday morning. OU football players such as Charles Tapper and Eric Striker have been incredibly vocal about taking a stand and fighting for what is right. Striker also appeared on CNN on Monday night
“It’s imperative we come up with something,” Striker said. “We can’t fight hatred with hatred. Striker would later say, “we’re all people, we’re all equal.”
OU has already suffered its first hit. North Mesquite (Texas) High offensive tackle Jean Delance, committed to OU since November, decommitted from OU on Monday morning. In direct messages with Sooners Illustrated, he said the racially insensitive video was a huge reason why.
Delance was the first, he won’t be the last. It will be up to Stoops, Lon Kruger and all the other OU coaches in other sports to steady the ship because other schools are going to use this against OU and parents and recruits will certainly have to give thought to their decision.
“You’re always concerned about everything,” Kruger said. “And yet when everyone sits back and really looks at it, they’ll realize it’s not the university, it’s a small group. That doesn’t reflect the opinion and attitude of the university which is obviously to step back and take a look at all of the great things that are happening.”
Recruiting can turn nasty even without incidents like this. It’s survival of the fittest and an absolute battle 24/7/365 to secure top recruits across the board.
Recruits can pick schools for a variety of reasons. The one thing you always want is to be in the conversation, to be in the mix. You want that proverbial puncher’s chance. This video could lead to some recruits eliminating the Sooners before things even get to that official visit part of the recruiting calendar.
Each recruit will be different. Houston Alief Elsik four-star linebacker Dontavious Jackson said he doesn’t envision this playing a huge role in his recruitment when it comes toward OU.
“I thought about it more and can’t blame the entire school for just those few,” Jackson said. “The action OU took was swift. Racial slurs and slams are going to be everywhere. OU’s actions let me know the whole school doesn’t think like this. It let me know it’s not acceptable.”
OU’s leadership has done its part, supporting the players, supporting the students. The goal is obvious, striving for change and working as one united university to make it happen. But all the actions done still might not be enough because of one 10-second video whose ramifications could be felt for years to come.