Florida Gators banning ‘Gator Bait’ cheer because of ‘racist imagery’

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gators opponents on the verge of defeat will no longer be showered with taunts of being “Gator Bait!”

UF president Kent Fuchs announced Thursday the popular cheer would be banned at sporting events due to the “horrific racist imagery” associated with the phrase.

“While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” Fuchs wrote in a letter to the university community. “Accordingly University Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer.”

Fuchs noted the death of George Floyd nearly three weeks ago was the impetus to address any instances of racism and inequity on the UF campus.

Long before it became a cheer at Florida football games, the term “gator bait” dates to the late 1800s when black babies and children were used as alligator bait and the phrase was used as a slur toward black people, according to Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.

The museum’s website features published articles on the topic, noting in 1919 the Florida Department of Agriculture made a concerted effort to stop the advertising on postcards of alligators lying in wait for black children because it had become “destructive advertising for the livestock development in Florida.”

Meanwhile, the “Gator Bait” cheer and song, often paired with the iconic Gator Chomp gesture, have become an integral part of UF football during recent decades.

Former All-America defensive back Lawrence Wright, one of the players who helped popularize the use of the phrase, told the Gainesville Sun he plans to speak to Dr. Fuchs about the decision.

“The Gator Nation is a culture, too,” Wright, who is black, told the Sun. “It’s not about what happened way back in the past. How about our culture?

“Me and the president need to sit down and talk about this.”

Following the Gators’ 1995 win against Florida State, Wright famously said, “If you ain’t a Gator, ya Gator bait, baby,” according to the Sun.

UF law student Dan Weldon II started a petition against the decision seeking 1,000 signatures. Within two hours, more than 800 people had signed it.

Fuchs said the decision to ban the cheer is just one element of a much larger plan to to improve the university’s relationship with race and ethnicity. Task forces will be formed to address the university’s history with various ethnic groups and to review the naming of buildings and monuments on campus.

Fuchs said he particularly focused on removing monuments or namings that “celebrate the Confederacy or its leaders.”

The fifth-year UF president concluded, “It is past time for UF to commit and engage in this challenging, uncomfortable, transformational work. We know that we cannot undo lifetimes of injustice and racism, but we believe we can make progress — in education, in advancing truth, reconciliation and justice, and in anti-racism, equality and working to eradicate inequities.”


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