In November of 1936, the entire Howard University football team went on strike after the athletes believed they were being exploited by school administrators.
President Mordecai Johnson, a Morehouse grad, not only rescinded the athletic training table and quarters, but he refused to give the players room and board because doing so at the time was considered professionalism in exchange for playing amateur sports.
Feeling exploited, the players went on strike forcing the school to cancel the rest of the season, including the coveted money-making Thanksgiving Classic with Lincoln. The player’s strike earned the sympathy of the student body, which also went on strike for a day.
Together, the players and students came up with a list of demands, which included campus jobs payable in room and board, better equipment, and better medical supplies.
News of the strike was reported on the front pages of The San Jose News and The Indianapolis Recorder.
An excerpt from the Nov. 16, 1936 San Jose News article read: “The principal grievance was said to be lack of a training table, and editorials in the school paper said the players were poorly fed, some living on a diet of hot dogs bought with borrowed money.”
Time magazine ran a story in its Nov. 30, 1936 issue under the headline “Animals: Bison Strike” calling the football team “the root of difficult.”
The strike resulted in Howard being forced to cancel the remaining games on its schedule that season even though the school did not yield to the demands of the athletes.
Some 77 years later, members of the Grambling State football team – a heritage program in the HBCU football world which has won once in its last 18 games – reportedly failed to show up for a scheduled practice Wednesday a day after walking out on a meeting with GSU President Frank Pogue and athletic director Aaron James.
“Things are rough, and we understand our players’ frustration,” Grambling spokesman Will Sutton told the The (Monroe, La.) News Star. “The president is frustrated, the A.D. is frustrated, the students are frustrated, the alumni are frustrated, so we fully understand our players’ frustration.”
Grievances raised among the disgruntled players were firing of head coach Doug Williams (let go on Sept. 11 after the first two games of the 2013 season), lengthy bus rides to games in Kansas City and Indianapolis versus Lincoln and Alcorn State (that’s a total of 1,322 miles over more than 20 hours) and the condition of athletic facilities.
The players also complained about not always being fed.
Steve Orisakwe, a defensive player, was one of the few Tigers who expressed his opinion of the matter
“Every week we go against the opposing team, their fans, our “‘fans” and our president,” Orisakwe tweeted.
Sutton added that interim coach George Ragsdale (the team’s interim head coach) has “nothing but love for (the players).”
“The president made a point of telling the players if they want to be angry at someone about the second losing season, then they can direct the anger toward him,” Sutton said. “The president made a point of saying that he is fully supportive of football players.”
The Tigers’ next scheduled game this Saturday at Jackson State is now in doubt, as it is uncertain whether the athletes will return to practice until they are given some type of assurances that the university has not abandoned them.
The athletes are angry at the administration. They are angry at fans. They are angry at all the losing that has occurred over past 676 days since their last win. Is that anger justified? Is this revolt against a school and system the athletes believe are working directly against them acceptable? Who knows. Only the major players at the epicenter of this public eruption can decipher what has led to this latest development.
We’re in a season of dissent in college athletics. The athletes, the people who do the most work but are compensated the least, are waking up to the idea that this relationship between them and the NCAA isn’t equal.
Recently dozens of college football players have displayed solidarity by challenging the NCAA restrictive practices as part of a initiative by the advocacy group National College Players Association.
The NCPA, founded by former UCLA football player Ramogi Huma, has been engaged in a battle to fight for things such as better health care and increased scholarship dollars for student-athletes.
Among the other demands the group and athletes have are:
• Demonstrate unity among college athletes and fans in favor of NCAA reform.
• Show support for players who joined concussion lawsuits against the NCAA, which could “force the NCAA to finally take meaningful steps to minimize brain trauma in contact sports and provide resources for current and former players suffering with brain injuries.”
• Show support for the players who “stepped up in the O’Bannon v. NCAA, EA Sports lawsuit regarding the use of players’ images/likeliness, which could unlock billions of dollars in resources for current, future, and former players.”
• Stand behind individual players being “harmed by NCAA rules.”
Maybe these student-athletes at Grambling are allowing their youthful inhibitions to get the best of them. Maybe they should handle this adversity in stride and suck it up for the good of the university and supporters.
Or Maybe they should holdout to raise awareness about their plight and the school’s alleged misdeeds just like those rabble-rousers at Howard did seven decades ago.