Much has been said and written about Virginia State University (VSU) since the unfortunate events that lead to the unprecedented cancellation of the CIAA championship football game between the VSU Trojans and the Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) Rams.
Understandably, for the VSU family, this is a very painful and emotional chapter in our storied history.
In spite of all the hyperbolic news reports of five VSU football players “viciously” attacking WSSU quarterback Rudy Johnson—largely driven by a less than objective North Carolina media outlet—the facts simply do not support this narrative.
Perhaps the Associated Press best summarized it: “The only thing clear is that Winston-Salem State quarterback Rudy Johnson was injured during a fight at a luncheon the day before last week’s scheduled CIAA championship game and a Virginia State player was arrested” for misdemeanor assault.
That’s all we know for sure.
And I don’t mean to minimize what happened and I would never condone acts of violence, regardless of circumstance; however, it is not even known for certain who initiated the altercation.
Meanwhile, not only was the championship game cancelled, but the CIAA declared VSU ineligible for postseason football while WSSU was allowed to advance in the NCAA playoffs.
And speaking of the CIAA, I question the wisdom of the entire set-up. One has to wonder what, if any, security measures were in place during the luncheon. There’s a reason why opposing teams are usually provided separate facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms. Stuff happens, which is why some even question the scheduling of the CIAA luncheon itself.
According to a recent Diverse article on the situation, at least one collegiate athletic official was not surprised by the events at the luncheon. SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp observed that, after averting similar altercations at championship luncheons with opposing teams in attendance, they have done away with the practice.
Although Sharp expressed confidence in CIAA Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter, he hinted that he would have handled things differently.
“You don’t want to impact the experience of student-athletes negatively,” Sharp remarked in Diverse. “It is unfortunate the incident happened…You hate to see the game cancelled. It’s just another issue we [would] have to deal with. We [would] take this situation and look at it different ways to come up with a solution.”
It’s a pity that the CIAA did not give much thought to how they would be negatively impacting the collegiate experience of the WSSU and VSU student-athletes and to finding a less drastic, even-handed solution; otherwise, they might not have cancelled the championship game, creating an international media feeding frenzy.
And they certainly would not have squashed VSU’s post-season chances—while allowing WSSU to advance—all on the strength of one team’s version of events.
It is also important to note that, in spite of the bathroom fisticuffs at WSSU, the Trojans are not the band of thugs they are being portrayed as.
President Keith T. Miller, in an open letter posted on VSU’s website, had the following to say of coach Latrell Scott and our football team.
The discipline and tenacity that exemplifies Coach Scott’s character is manifested in the classroom and on the field. This season, his football team boasts a cumulative 2.81 grade point average, which is above last year’s VSU team average that led the CIAA. His team’s classroom success has been mirrored on the gridiron…For the season, the Trojans were the second-least penalized team in the CIAA, demonstrating that the team is disciplined and competitive…On November 15, 2013, one young man made a very bad decision…[which] cannot and will not be condoned. However, we wholeheartedly support our head football coach, our football coaching staff, and most importantly our football players.
But, at the end of the day, VSU is not defined by athletics, and this thing is bigger than football.
It is as VSU’s outstanding Athletic Director Peggy Davis, CIAA Athletic Director of the year for four academic years between 2006-2011 and one of Diverse 2013 Top 25 Women in Higher Education, told me this week, “This not only affects our student-athletes, but our entire institution.”
So, we will not sit back and be stereotyped by this event, which is why VSU has retained the services of an outside firm to conduct a full investigation of this unfortunate event.
We want to stick to the facts and leave the mudslinging and muckraking to those who will. The fact-finding should soon be complete.
Until then, the words of the celebrated poet and publisher Naomi Long Madgett, VSU alumnae (‘45), seem appropriate: “Mighty mountains loom before me and I won’t stop now.” And we won’t stop now.
That is the VSU story, pressing ahead, no matter the circumstances, “Building a Better World since 1882.”
Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a cultural critic, diversity consultant, strategist and associate professor of Africana literature at Virginia State University.
 This verse is excerpted from one of Naomi Long Madgett’s most anthologized poems, “Midway” (1956).
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