Message to the People: I like Billy Reed, but I’m not sold on Rupp

I will begin 2006 with a salute to Brother Huey Freeman. If you don’t know who Huey Freeman is, you’re behind in the game already. Here we go. Read slowly.

Jesus was black; Bush lied about the reasons for going to war; Colin, Condosleeza, Rummy and baby-eating Dick Cheney helped with the lie; Jim Bunning is senile; local and state Democrats would be Republicans anywhere else; the Democratic Party, overall, has no balls; the Republican Party has no heart or conscience; too many black people are confused, ashamed and work overtime to be accepted by white people; too many white people are in denial and can’t come to grips with their own racism; American historical and contemporary reality is deeply rooted in racial, ethnic, religious and class oppression; outside of Alabama and Mississippi, Kentucky may be the most repressive state in the union on issues of race; most University of Kentucky fans are fanatical, mean-spirited assholes; Adolph Rupp, at best, if not a racist, was a willing conspirator in the maintenance of a racist institutional structure at UK; and, oh yeah, did I mention this — Jesus was black. Yep, I said it.

Let me be clear, I’m glad Brother Billy Reed is dropping a little knowledge in LEO these days. I’ve never met him, but have enjoyed his writing in different publications over the years. I’m not even saying he was wrong when he purported a few weeks ago, in anticipation of the release of the film “Glory Road,” which recounts Texas Western’s 1966 defeat of Kentucky, that Adolph Rupp was not “the most vile racist in college sports.” I am saying that’s not really the point.

Brother Reed admits, “The truth is, nobody knows what was in Adolph Rupp’s heart.” Of course he’s right, but goes on to pretty much blame Sports Illustrated writer Curry Kirkpatrick and a gaggle of “TV producers who weren’t even born when the game was played willfully and maliciously parroted the myth of Rupp-as-racist in various ‘documentaries,’ books, magazine articles and newspaper columns” for all of Rupp’s woes. In short, the “Baron” been done wrong!

Of course, Reed’s article set the stage for UK fanatics to immediately proclaim that Rupp and UK (like the state of Kentucky as a whole) have simply been misunderstood — if not outright lied about since time-immemorial. Of course, King Rex Chapman would disagree (but UK fans don’t like to talk about that). As one LEO reader wrote, she might have to “wave it under more than a few noses.”

Well, in the immortal words of that great sage and prophet Lee Corso — “Not so fast, my friend!” Please forgive the good ol’ Bastard out of Georgia if he doesn’t buy this thing lock, stock and barrel. There are a few eyebrow-raisers here.

For instance, Reed praises then Sports Illustrated columnist Frank Deford for his coverage of UK in 1965 when Rupp received a verbal commitment from Butch Beard. According to Reed, the story “UK’s leadership in integration … Deford also covered the Texas Western game for SI and, interestingly, did not mention a single word about race in the cover story.” What Reed fails to mention, however, is the same Frank Deford later reported that he heard Rupp refer to Texas Western players as “coons” in the UK locker room during halftime.

Reed feels Rupp wanted change, but was restrained by “unwritten SEC policy” on recruiting blacks. Others believe Rupp didn’t need the SEC to restrain him at all — his personal racial sentiments were enough. Judith Egerton of The Courier-Journal quotes Frank Fitzpatrick, author of “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Kentucky, Texas Western, and the Game that Changed American Sports,” “He had the opportunity to be a trailblazer, but because he resisted, it has tarnished him historically. If he had been the coach to integrate the Southeastern Conference and the South, he would be a tremendous sporting legend today.”

In researching his book, Fitzpatrick found no evidence of overt racism by Rupp. “Let’s just say, I think he had the prevailing attitudes about race, and that he was powerful enough and educated enough to move beyond those views — and he did not.”

At the end of the day, the old adage stands — all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Now, I don’t know if Rupp was racist or not. But the historical record will forever show that he did very little to fight it. Live with it and love it, UK fans.

Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth and do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.

Dr. Ricky L. Jones is an associate professor in the department of Pan-African Studies at U of L. His LEO column appears bi-weekly. Contact him at [email protected]