The Grambling football team's boycott in protest of shitty work conditions is now over. But that's not to say all is well. Photos of the football facility that surfaced over the weekend show just how awful things had gotten, and the university has punished two members of the student newspaper for covering and promoting the players' effort.
The Tigers refused to practice late last week and then decided not to travel to Saturday's game at Jackson State, which resulted in a forfeit. The Southwestern Athletic Conference had said it would fine Grambling $20,000 for boycott, citing its bylaws, but the league has since backed down and said it would not issue any such fine.
The end of the boycott was announced this morning when Naquan Smith, a senior safety who has served as a team spokesman in recent days, sent the following statement to reporters:
As part of the athletic program at Grambling State University, the football team, took a stance on what we thought was right. We did not quit on our university. There are many problems that exist and if no one says anything, nothing will come of our institution. We hope Coach Eddie Robinson and his legendary players can appreciate that we stood up for what we thought was right. After coming into contact with different sources, we decided to reach out to the one person we trusted, Coach Doug Williams, with our concerns. His main statement to us was, "Go out there and play football." He also put us in contact with Jim Bernhard out of Baton Rouge. A meeting was held with Mr. Bernhard as well as, Douglas Porter, Ezil Bibbs, Roy Jackson, Henry Dyer and Howard Davis. The meeting confirmed him [Jim Bernhard] as being committed with our best intentions at heart and that he would ensure we had updated facilities, but we had to agree to being back practicing Monday, October 21 and finish the remainder of our season. Although we are going to continue our season, we have not forgotten the situation and how we've gotten here. We would like to say thank you to Coach Williams, the Legends and Mr. Jim Bernhard. Grambling has given us the opportunity to be a part of its legacy and we are only looking to improve conditions for the university and future student-athletes.
Grambling (0-8) has four games remaining. Former NFL linebacker Dennis "Dirt" Winston is the Tigers' third head coach since the start of the season. The players' decision to resume playing came after school administrators were forced to respond to a letter outlining their complaints, which included dilapidated facilities, having to pay for their own Gatorade, mold and mildew on equipment, and poorly cleaned uniforms, which puts players at risk of staph infections. The final straw, apparently, was a bus trip covering some 1,500 round-trip miles to a game in Indianapolis on Oct. 12.
Grambling has been hit hard by budget cuts and a reduction in state funding in recent years, but its finances have also been audited frequently by the state of Louisiana. The Monroe (La.) News-Star says Grambling's athletic director committed to a $32,000 upgrade to the weight room on Friday night. On Saturday, the university also released a state health inspection report dated Oct. 7. That report noted that some flooring in the football facility needed repair and that ceiling tiles were in poor condition from water damage, but it also said there were no health violations. Also on Saturday, Smith tweeted 10 photos to show just how awful the conditions had become:
NOTE: ALL OF GRAMBLING ATHLETICS IS SUFFERING
— Naquan Nate Smith (@NateDaGreat26) October 19, 2013
Meanwhile, David Lankster Sr., the online editor of the student newspaper, The Gramblinite, was fired, and Kimberly Monroe, the paper's opinion pages editor, was suspended for two weeks.
Lankster said he was fired for tweeting statements from anonymous players and photos of the athletic facility from the newspaper's Twitter account. In an interview with allDigitocracy, Lankster also accused Will Sutton, the school's director of PR and communications, of censorship. Here's Sutton tweeting an angry response at The Gramblinite last week:
@TheGramblinite Are you serious? "Unidentified"? Really? Step up and be identified and stop hiding, or don't use them as sources.
— willsutton (@willsutton) October 17, 2013
Per allDigitocracy, Monroe had organized a rally last Thursday in support of the players. She also said the newspaper's adviser asked her to remove something from a column written by the student government president. Monroe posted the letter informing her of her suspension on her personal blog. This is an excerpt:
Ms. Monroe, you are hereby suspended for two weeks from your duties at The Gramblinite.
As a member of The Gramblinite, you should not have become involved in a public rally, as you did yesterday. I know Mass Communication was not your undergraduate major so you missed the classroom instruction regarding conflict of interest. But the Code of Ethics that you must read and sign each semester as part of your Gramblinite application outlines certain behaviors that are expected of you. Item No. 4 of the Code reads:
"We report the news without regard for our own interests, mindful of the need to disclose potential conflicts. We avoid involvement in campus events, politics, demonstrations and social causes that would cause a conflict of interest, or the appearance of such conflict."
David Lankster's firing, Kimberly Monroe's suspension by @TheGramblinite have been overturned. However, Lankster plans to quit. #Grambling
— Roy Lang III (@RoyLangIII) October 21, 2013