Mike Bianchi: FSU, UF need to rename racially charged sports venues after Bobby Bowden, Billy Donovan

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A serious question for state politicians and university presidents past and present: Why wasn’t Doak Campbell’s name removed from Florida State’s football stadium and Stephen C. O’Connell’s name removed from the University of Florida’s basketball arena years ago?

It’s seems almost unfathomable that FSU president John Thrasher released a statement Monday afternoon saying he is going to ask athletics director David Coburn to review removing Campbell’s name from FSU’s stadium more than 60 years after Campbell tried his damndest to keep Black students from enrolling at FSU.


I guess better late than never, huh?

Isn’t it inherently sad that it’s taken the killing of George Floyd, weeks of massive protests and an international Black Lives Matter movement to come to the obvious conclusion that it’s hypocritical and wrong to have the names of Campbell and O’Connell — former school presidents and noted segregationists — on modern-day sports venues?

Especially on modern-day sports venues, where the vast majority of football and basketball players are Black.

Think about it: How would you feel if you were a Black student-athlete making tons of money for your university while playing in a building named after someone who tried to keep Black students from being admitted to your university?

It’s no wonder Kendrick Scott, a former FSU linebacker from 1991-94, has started a change.org petition to have Campbell’s name removed from the Seminoles’ football stadium. It’s no wonder UF grad student Anthony Rojas is pushing to rename eight venues on the Gainesville campus, including the basketball arena named after O’Connell.

But why are former football players and current grad students the ones pushing for these changes now? Why weren’t governors and school presidents mandating these changes years ago?

I brought this up back in February when state politicians quashed UCF’s lucrative $35-million naming rights deal with Roofclaim.com simply because the powerful insurance lobby doesn’t like the way Roofclaim.com conducts its business. I asked then and I’ll ask again now: Why did politicians veto Roofclaim.com Stadium in a matter of days but have ignored Doak Campbell Stadium and the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for decades?

It’s not like they didn’t know about Campbell’s and O’Connell’s racial history. A quick Google search will tell you all you need to know.

Campbell was a popular FSU president in the 1940s and ‘50s who strongly opposed allowing Black students into FSU. Wrote James A. Schnur in an historical perspective about educational integration in the state: “Campbell exacted deference from the campus community, suppressed the liberal editorial policy of the semi-weekly Florida Flambeau newspaper and refused to tolerate any breach of racial segregation. He forced the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to cancel a regional conference at FSU when he learned that Black faculty members from the neighboring Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) planned to attend. … Campbell attempted to ban student participation at pro-integration meetings, as well as to prohibit the school newspaper, the Flambeau, from writing about racial segregation.”

In his change.org petition, Scott rightfully contends that Doak Campbell Stadium should be re-named Bobby Bowden Stadium in honor of the legendary coach who not only put FSU football on the map; he drew the dadgum map.

Likewise, UF’s O’Connell Center should be re-named the Donovan Dome after the iconic Billy Donovan, who turned a mediocre program at a football school into an elite, national championship-winning basketball juggernaut.

Keeping O’Connell’s name on the arena just seems ethically wrong, especially when 14 of the 15 basketball players on UF’s roster last season were Black. For the uninformed, before O’Connell became UF’s president, he was chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. And between 1945 and 1958, 85 black students applied to UF and all were turned down. The most famous of those was Virgil Hawkins, who fought all the way up to the Florida Supreme Court for his right to go to law school at UF. O’Connell and the Supreme Court rejected Hawkins’ attempt to integrate UF because they felt his admission would be a “disruptive influence.”

In 1971 after O’Connell became UF’s president, according to Rojas’ change.org petition, “He arrested and threatened to expel 66 Black students who organized a sit-in at Tigert Hall as an expression of discontent with university policies that did not encourage Black student enrollment or the employment of Black faculty members. The students were later denied amnesty for their actions and the event is remembered in UF history as ‘Black Thursday.’ “

Hard to believe we are more than a half century removed from O’Connell and Campbell trying to keep Black students out of UF and FSU and yet their names are still on the venues where so many Black students compete.

The names of Doak Campbell and Stephen O’Connell should have been removed from those buildings years ago when it was the proper thing to do instead of the popular thing to do.

As the great Tony Dungy once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody is watching.”


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