GRAMBLING, La. – Anyone who wants to understand why the players on the 0-7 Grambling State football team revolted this week — walking out of a Tuesday meeting with the school’s president and athletic director, boycotting practice and finally refusing to travel to Saturday’s game with Jackson State — should visit the weight room in the school’s Stadium Support Building. Then look down.
Covering the concrete floor are large interlocking rubber tiles. They are light gray now but were almost certainly a different shade when they were installed years ago. Many of them curl at the edges or have corners missing, hazards that can cause an unsuspecting player to trip. In some areas, entire tiles are gone. Imagine hoisting 300 pounds while having to watch your step. In a sport where injuries are common, the last thing players need are physical hazards in their own weight room. That is how the Tigers’ football players train.
The floor is not the only sign of the building’s decay. There is rust around some windows and insulation droops down from where ceiling panels are absent. Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) schools “are often asked to do more with less,” says school president Dr. Frank Pogue, and that is indisputable. But the weight room floor represents more than the financial constraints that have long hampered Grambling and other historically black colleges. It also symbolizes the political infighting and mismanagement that have plagued the school in recent years, problems which precipitated the football program’s rapid decline, and which helped spark this week’s unprecedented protest by the players.
Near the start of the 2013 season, the Grambling Legends, a group unaffiliated with the school, put up the money to buy replacement flooring for the weight room. Doug Williams, then the Tigers coach — as well as a popular alumnus, a former Super Bowl MVP and a member of the Grambling Legends — helped arrange the purchase of the new rubber flooring, just as he had done earlier with new flooring for the team’s locker room. Williams had a history of ruffling administrative feathers at the school — in April 2012 he sued Grambling State for performance bonuses he says he was owed — and he often circumvented the athletic department’s chain of command. The funds to pay for the new weight room floor, which had not been filtered through the school’s foundation as Pogue and athletic director Aaron James demanded, were yet another instance of that.
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