Column: Names of Black athletes need to adorn stadiums
As Black History Month comes to a close, there have been myriad tributes to the accomplishments of African Americans in sports arenas across the land.
That’s not nearly enough.
Not after the racial awakening this country went through last summer. Not when major college athletic facilities are still named almost exclusively for whites, ignoring the rich history of African Americans in the two biggest sports, football and basketball.
Why isn’t the basketball arena at UCLA known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Pavilion? Why doesn’t Georgia’s football stadium honor Herschel Walker? Shouldn’t Jim Brown’s name be on the dome at Syracuse?
In the ultimate oversight, there is only one Power Five football stadium that carries the name of a Black player — Iowa State’s Jack Trice Stadium.
On the basketball side, Wake Forest’s Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum is the lone Power Five conference arena named for an African American, honoring a heroic medic who earned the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
Trice’s tragic story — the school’s first Black athlete, he died of injuries sustained in a 1923 game against Minnesota — was largely forgotten until students began pushing for him to be recognized in the 1970s and early ’80s, according to Steve Jones, a longtime Iowa State employee who wrote the children’s book, “Football’s Fallen Hero: The Jack Trice Story.”
Finally, in 1997, the school agreed to rename what was then known as Cyclone Stadium after Trice.
It was a worthy tribute.
“He was trying to open doors for other African Americans,” said Jones, who is now retired from the university. “The Jack Trice story resonates more today than it ever has.”
Joel, who died in 1984, was honored by his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, five years later when it opened a new arena for Wake Forest. The name stuck even after the school took control of the arena a few years ago.
“There was no question that Lawrence Joel’s name would stay as part of the arena,” Wake Forest athletic director John Currie said. “He’s a big part of how Wake Forest and Winston-Salem are tied together.”
Currie hopes more recognition will come to Black Americans.
“Most college campuses were built a long time ago, so the names on them were from a long time ago,” he said. “We have opportunities to make how we’ve honored people more inclusive of the heritage of our universities.”
Texas took a step in that direction last summer, hoping to address the concerns of Black athletes by renaming the field at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.
But that was merely a tepid start.
Recognizing that certain financial and logistical issues might need to be resolved, here are some other changes that would do justice to the history of Black athletes:
SANFORD STADIUM — Known for its famed hedges that encircle the playing field, the 92,000-seat home of the Georgia Bulldogs carries the name of Steadman Vincent Sanford, a university president in the 1930s and driving force behind the development of the school’s athletic program in the Jim Crow era. (In addition, the field was named in honor of longtime former coach Vince Dooley in 2019).
Herschel Walker Stadium would be a much more worthy title in today’s times. He was unquestionably the greatest football player in school history, leading the school to its only consensus national championship in 1980 and winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982. While a bit of a polarizing figure these days because of his political views, there is no doubt that Walker’s athletic accomplishments are worthy of this ultimate honor.
And hey, while they’re at it, Georgia officials should also change the name of their basketball arena, Stegeman Coliseum, which recognizes a white basketball coach from a century ago. Basketball Hall of Famers Dominique Wilkins and Teresa Edwards, who both starred in the 10,000-seat facility during their college careers, are deserving of Wilkins-Edwards Coliseum.
PAULEY PAVILION — One of college basketball’s most storied venues, the home of the UCLA Bruins opened in 1965 after a major donation from University of California regent Edwin W. Pauley. While he could continue to be honored in some way, the 13,800-seat arena should be named after the greatest in a long line of stellar players who have led the school to a record 11 national titles — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Pavilion.
During his three years on the varsity team, Abdul-Jabbar earned All-America honors each year while leading the Bruins to an 88-2 record and three national championships. His continuing work to advance social justice only adds to his legacy, not to mention his brilliant comedic turn as co-pilot Roger Murdock in the film “Airplane!”
JORDAN-HARE STADIUM — Auburn’s 87,000-seat stadium is named for storied coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan and Cliff Hare, a member of Auburn’s first football team as well as an early president of the Southern Conference, the SEC’s predecessor. In today’s times, it should carry the name of the greatest player in school history.
Bo knows it should be Bo Jackson Stadium. Or, at the very least, Jackson-Jordan Stadium.
FRANK ERWIN CENTER — While Texas should go a step further by adding the names of Campbell and Williams to its entire football stadium, a more pressing case can be made for changing the name of the school’s current basketball arena, the Erwin Center. Its namesake was the powerful chairman of the school’s board of regents in the 1960s, when he used his influence to stifle anti-Vietnam War protesters and remove professors he viewed as unpatriotic.
Former Texas basketball stars T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant are far more deserving of recognition. The Erwin Center should be changed to the Ford Center, while Durant’s name can be added to the new 10,000-seat arena the school plans to open before the 2022-23 season. It’s going to be called the Moody Center, recognizing a foundation that made a huge donation. Surely the folks at Moody would be good calling it the Moody-Durant Center.
CARRIER DOME — The 49,000-seat stadium, which serves as home of Syracuse’s football and basketball programs, opened in 1980 with a name tied to a large donation made by the heating and air conditioning conglomerate. While the field now carries the name of Ernie Davis, college football’s first Black Heisman Trophy winner, the entire facility should be renamed the Jim Brown Dome.
Brown was one of college and pro football’s greatest stars, as well as a towering figure among athletes who fought for civil rights in the 1960s (a role that is fictionally portrayed in the movie “One Night in Miami,” a leading Oscar contender).
That’s just a few possibilities.
Obviously, many other African American athletes merit similar honors by the schools they represented so well.
They deserve to be remembered all year — not just in a month that is almost over.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry196 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
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