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The Slippery Rupp Road

By Vinny Hardy

Adolph Rupp’s name is as prominent as any in college basketball lore and rightfully so. Hanging like a cloud around that legacy is the talk, idea, allegations, evidence for or evidence against him being a racist or having segregationist tendencies. As many have already said, if you want to find information to support this or debunk this you can do so very easily. If you were dead set in your stance and then realized that your perspective had been changed there’s examples of that as well.

The fires of this topic were restoked most recently in a letter from the faculty of the UK African American & Africana Studies to the UK President Eli Capilouto and the administration.

There are some valid points in the letter. The numbers don’t lie. When it comes to faculty and leadership positions, funding, support, representation etc. there is clearly room for improvement and a need for awareness in those areas.

It goes without saying that the renaming of Rupp Arena would get the headline. It’s the last bullet point in the letter and honestly it wouldn’t matter where it was placed in the letter that’s where all eyes would focus no matter if you’re in Kentucky, from Kentucky or not. I talked with Stevie Westmoreland, sister of Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson the other day. I asked her about her familiarity with Kentucky prior to Terry committing to UK and she mentioned Kentucky basketball. 
Going big or going home is great, but maybe saving the renaming topic until phase 2 would have given these other topics for discussion a chance to have light more properly shed on them.

Since it is on the letter let’s break it down. The first sentence states that:

“The Adolph Rupp name has come to stand for racism and exclusion in UK athletics and alienates Black students, fans, and attendees.”

There are definitely things about him that aren’t flattering at all. This, to me, suggests that he is perceieved as a person who was rooted and deeply set in his ways when it came to integration of any kind. This depicts him as the “Gold Standard” of racism. If that’s the case then why would he even bother to recruit Wes Unseld and Butch Beard? Well, it was a halfhearted recruitment. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t (there’s a lot of maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t with Rupp). But again, if he was the epitome of racism and exclusion why would he even fool with it?
Nate Northington integrated UK and the entire SEC when he stepped on the field for UK in a game against Ole Miss and was followed by fellow pioneers Greg Page, Houston Hogg and Wilbur Hackett. A man with Rupp’s power and influence who had been holding his position as the basketball coach at Kentucky for more than three decades would’ve surely had something to say about these sweeping changes if disagreed with them, wouldn’t he?
He could’ve given up on recruiting black players after Unseld and Beard opted to go to Louisville. If that had happened Tom Payne wouldn’t have come to Kentucky in 1969. The changes on the football side could’ve been deemed enough. True, he wasn’t as progressive as he could’ve been or even on the same level as some of his coaching peers at the time.
Maybe Rupp Arena gets renamed, maybe it doesn’t. It’s safe to say that Adolph Rupp was never going to be confused for anyone marching with the late John Lewis from Selma to Montgomery, but he wasn’t George Wallace “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” either.
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Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett is a life long Kentucky fan that, after 25 years in the medical device industry, is now the host of Just the Cats– a UK sports talk radio show. The sporting events that he has covered have been the fulfillment of a dream of his for many years. Covering UK as a media member while getting an inside look at our beloved Wildcats is nothing short of amazing. If you would like to connect with Michael follow him on Twitter @justthecatradio.

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