The football stadium of Grambling State Univeristy, Louisiana, in May, 2010. (CC/Billy Hathorn)
Even in football, a sport whose DNA is constructed to produce obedience and deference to authority, people can be pushed only so far before they push back. At Grambling State, the players engaged in a players’ strike, what all media outlets are calling “a mutiny”, and refused to take the field on Saturday against Jackson State. It just lasted one game, but only because the administration and powers that be made a series of promises to get them back on the field.
They had little choice. The list of grievances at the school that the late Hall of Fame Coach Eddie Robinson called home is both long and startling. From unsanitary locker room conditions that have led to multiple cases of staph infection” as well as “mildew and mold on the ceiling, walls and floor,” to 750-mile overnight bus rides before games, to a weight room that appears to be an ugly accident waiting to happen, to having their popular coach, former Grambling quarterback Doug Williams summarily fired, this is a team of young people that has simply had enough. (Read their grievance letter in its entirety here.)
Some of the players’ frustration stems from the numerous cases of infighting by the adults in charge, but the root cause of the chaos can be found in the Louisiana Governor’s office of Bobby Jindal. Governor Jindal rejected federal stimulus funds in 2009, while also cutting 219 million dollars in state funds for higher education, $5 million of which would have gone to Grambling State. In 2012, Jindal cut another million that was due to go to Grambling State’s operating costs.
This has hammered the entire school, and the athletic department is no exception. At a school where players are self-rationing weight-lifting supplements to make sure everyone gets a fair share, every dollar matters. But as necessarily as it is to call out Governor Jindal, the Obama administration’s record on supporting historically black colleges and universities has also been, to be kind, brutal, with decreases in federal grant funding and changes in loan programs that have estimated to have cleaved $300 million from HBCU’s nationally.
Now a football school that as recently as 2011 won their conference title has not come within ten points of an opponent all season and the players are saying enough is enough.