Tigers In A Spotlight: Hard Times and Big Trouble at Grambling State

The team sacked the university officials.

When the Grambling football team decided to boycott their game against Jackson State over the shoddy training facilities, poorly cleaned uniforms and pads, 14 hour-long bus trips and being charged for their own Gatorade it quickly evolved beyond a simple sports story into a eye-opening look at the sorry state of cash-strapped Black colleges and universities.

While politely framed, the letter from the football players of how deep in crisis mode Grambling State truly is.

The athletic complex is a place where we as a team prepare for competition. In our opinion, the complex is in horrible condition, and has many hazards that may contribute to our overall health. First, the complex is filled with mildew and mold. Mildew and mold can be seen on the ceiling, walls and floor, and are contributing to water leaks because of faltering walls and ceilings. Grambling student-athletes are not the only ones complaining about this particular hazard. When Lamar University came to play our team they refused to go in the locker room for half time due to mold and mildew. Second, the weight room and care of game and practice gear are in bad condition, in areas where the floor is coming up, it causes players to trip while lifting large amounts of weight. Equipment in the weight room is falling apart, as well as workout benches are tearing and ripping apart.

We as student athletes would also like better detergent for our uniforms and practice uniforms. The uniforms are poorly cleaned and contribute to the multiple cases if staph infection. Several players have been infected with staph multiple times.  

Student-athletes have been complaining since summer 2013 about the way summer camp and work outs were set up.  We did not receive Gatorade or Muscle Milk. We had to pay for those expensive items ourselves. We were also forced to get water from hoses underneath the stadium in 90 degree plus weather. Student-athletes often complained of the high grass we had to practice in. The grass was up to our knees and was rarely cut. This was a huge inconvenience to the team.  Shortly after that we found out that we would not be housed for camp. Players that live off campus were responsible for commuting back and forth to campus three times a day, not to mention, we were already paying for summer school out of pocket.

During summer 2013 we were told we would be taking two major trips this season, Kansas City, Missouri and the other to Indianapolis, Indiana. We were pretty excited but found out later we would be taking a bus. Both trips, we traveled excessive hours. One trip was 14 hours while the other was 17.  Players were drained and exhausted after those long rides. Long rides take a toll on athlete’s bodies both mentally and physically. However both the president and athletic director traveled by plane. In our opinion, any trip over 8 hours should be taken by plane. We also found out that we would not travel to a hotel and stay overnight for home games. It is tradition for us to travel for home games but that tradition was broken also.

Get your lift on. But watch your step.

The next complaint is about money donated from friends of football and the alumni association. Money from both organizations is being rejected. The funds donated can help take care of some of our expenses. The funding can supply Muscle Milk, Gatorade, help house us or even get the complex cleaned and updated. All things that are much needed. The funds are rejected by the university, because the organizations that donate the money want to put their money toward a specific cause, not the university or athletics as a whole.  

The letter must have gone off louder than a bomb with university officials, but when the student newspaper Tweeted pictures of the torn workout bench, dirty walls, filthy weight-lifting belts and the mold and mildew covered football equipment, Grambling State retaliated by removing the editor from the paper.   Seems they figured freedom of the press doesn’t extend to exposing the squalid conditions the jocks have to endure,  but nobody was paying any attention to the dire state of Grambling University before this dramatic gesture by the players and now its a national news despite attempts by Grambling officials to suppress the story,   The picture coming in focus is of a crumbling football program, a school on financial life support, and an uncaring system that uses up the bodies of young men whom receive none of the profits but take most of the risks.

Don’t blame these young men for speaking truth to power.  Applaud them for standing up for something other than winning meaningless football games or is the purpose of higher education only to fill up stadiums on Saturdays and plug new cogs in the college football machine?

William C. Rhoden, an award-winning sports columnist for the New York Times  wrote, “While much of the language of college athletic reform has focused on exploitation of players and especially the low graduation rates of black players, the significance of the Grambling protest is that players at a historically black college complained that the institution was treating them unfairly and was exploiting their muscle. The boycott targeted a system that exploits all players, whether they attend Grambling or Georgia Tech. The issues at Grambling are different from the issues at Georgia Tech, but players at each institution play by the same N.C.A.A. rules. Those rules prop up an outdated and exploitative system. ”

Gov. Bobby Jindal has slashed millions in aid for Grambling.

There is plenty of blame to spread around in the Grambling mess.   The team is lousy this season (0-8), the university administration seems more interested in shutting up the students and covering their own asses than fixing the many problems of the troubled school.  But if there’s one specific bad guy  to be called out look no further than Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who has repeatedly cut state funding for Grambling as Deadspin detailed:

In 2009, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal turned down stimulus money from the federal government. That same year, Jindal cut $219 million in state funds for higher education, including $5 million that would have been earmarked for Grambling. In January 2012, Jindal announced an additional mid-year budget cut of $50 million for higher education, with Grambling losing out on nearly $1 million of that total. This is not chump change.

It gets worse. According to a 2011 university financial report, Grambling’s share of funding from the state of Louisiana was projected to decrease nearly 40 percent by the 2011-12 school year from its peak in 2007-08. According to Frank Pogue, the university president, that figure is now up to more than 50 percent in the last eight years. To help offset the shortfall, the school hacked some $200,000 from its athletics budget in 2010-11. And that same report called for an additional cut of $1.19 million from athletics in 2011-12.

There was not one single act nor one specific person to be blamed for the situation at Grambling State.   All the stupidly heavy-handed response by university officials to squelch the student newspaper’s criticism got them was even more negative attention and bad press. Way to go President Pogue.  Moron.

When my daughter was considering a HBCU to attend we toured several and came away stunned by the poor condition of the campuses and specifically the dormitories.   It never occurred to me to check out the athletic facilities.   If they were anything like Grambling State, I’m probably glad I didn’t without wearing a hazmat suit.

It’s unfortunate the young men at Grambling State have to go put up with this crap, but there are more important things than playing another football game.   Taking a stand and demanding to decent working conditions (and make no mistake, college football is a job) isn’t something reserved only for those picking up a paycheck.   The Grambling officials and the NCAA probably wish these student athletes would act more like stereotypical dumb jocks than young Black men speaking out, but they deserve as much applause for what they are doing now as much as anything they have ever done on a football field.

Bad times in the Bayou.