The once-proud Grambling State University football team forfeited their game last Saturday in Jackson, MS. It was to be Southwestern Athletic Conference rival, Jackson State’s homecoming, but the Grambling players had bigger things on their minds as they refused to board the buses to take them to the game after having boycotted practices Wednesday and Thursday.
Grambling State has one of the most storied programs in all of college football. It was the home of legendary coach Eddie Robinson, who walked those sidelines for 57 years from 1941 to 1997 and is the winningest or second winningest coach in college football history, depending on whether or not you support the NCAA vacating former Penn State head coach, Joe Paterno’s wins after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The school also produced Doug Williams who later became the first Black quarterback to lead his team to a Superbowl win when he took the Washington Redskins to the Promised Land in the 1987 season. Williams was also the head football coach of the Grambling State Tigers until just recently (more on that later). Aside from Doug, Grambling has sent more than 100 players to the NFL.
That’s what makes the events of the past few weeks so troubling. The Grambling players didn’t board that bus because they are protesting the deteriorating condition of the athletic facilities and equipment among other things at their school. Their complaints include the firing of Williams just two games into the season, mold on equipment and walls, rotting floors and having to travel by bus to games this season in Kansas City, Mo, and Indianapolis 650 and 750 miles away from campus, respectively. For that 750-mile trip, the team left campus at 6pm on a Thursday and didn’t arrive in Indianapolis until 9am on Friday. Needless to say, they got blown out by Alcorn State, 48-0. Alcorn State had flown in for the game.
This season, the team is 0-8 (including the Jackson St. forfeit) and they have lost 18 games in a row.
Earlier last week already upset over the playing conditions the players became angry upon learning that Doug Williams had been fired reportedly due to some in-fighting within the school’s administration. The team met with university president Frank Pogue, athletic director Aaron James, head coach George Ragsdale and student government President Jordan Harvey to complain about that and the other things. Apparently the meeting didn’t go well and ended with the team walking out and making the decision to boycott their upcoming practices and ultimately last Saturday’s game.
The team decided to end their boycott after reaching out to Doug Williams who advised them to “Go out there and play football.” He also connected them with Baton Rogue businessman, Jim Bernhard who said that he would ensure the Tigers had new facilities as long as they went back to practice and finished the remainder of the season.
The team did practice on Monday – although it was mostly conditioning – and is preparing to host Texas Southern this Saturday.
“The football team took a stance on what we thought was right,” sixth-year senior and starting safety, Naquan Smith said in a press conference with the rest of the team standing behind him. “We did not quit on our university. There are many problems that exist and if no one says anything, nothing will become of our institution. We hope coach Eddie Robinson and his legendary players appreciate we took a stand and thought we were right.”