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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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College Football Dominance Could Shift As Anti-DEI Sentiment Grows

  • The NAACP is now urging Black college athletes to reconsider playing at Florida public colleges.
  • Alabama could be the next state to be affected by the growing issue.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Is the competitive landscape in college football about to change radically due to a new funding provision in Florida higher education? Perhaps, if the NAACP has its way. 

The NAACP is now urging Black college athletes to reconsider playing at public colleges in the Sunshine State following a newly signed bill, championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that prohibits the use of state funds for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Several schools, including the University of Florida, North Florida, and Florida International, have closed DEI programs as a result. 

“If any institution is to reap the benefits of Black talent, it is only right that they completely invest in Black futures,” wrote NAACP leaders Leon Russell and Derrick Johnson in a letter to NCAA president Charlie Baker. “This is not simply about sports; it’s about acknowledging and advocating for the rights and supports of Black students within educational environments.”

If the NAACP call for Black players to play elsewhere is heeded in large-scale fashion, that could create seismic shifts among college football’s top teams, as Florida’s public schools have long been dominant forces in the sport.

Though currently trying to reverse losing seasons the last two years, the Gators have won three national titles and posted 13 10-win seasons in the last three decades. The Seminoles, meanwhile, just posted an undefeated regular season, and have two national titles and 16 10-win seasons of their own in that same 30-year span. The University of Central Florida left the AAC and upgraded to the Big 12 last year, while the University of South Florida, meanwhile, is building a new on-campus stadium. 

That success was achieved with rosters heavily made up of Black players. 

“The value Black, and other college athletes bring to large universities is unmatched,” Johnson said. “If these institutions are unable to completely invest in those athletes, it’s time they take their talents elsewhere.”

The NAACP quickly gained support from notable alumni of those Florida public schools. Among those decrying the closing of the DEI programs include former Gators star and Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (above). But the situation might not just be confined to Florida. A similar ban on public funding for DEI programs is developing in Alabama, home to another college football powerhouse with the Crimson Tide, and a bill to do that just passed the Alabama House.

“Although I’m the biggest Bama fan, I have no problem organizing Black parents and athletes to attend other institutions outside the state where diversity and inclusion are prioritized,” said Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin recently.

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