Grambling players grappling for control

Marques Winick, Contributing Reporter

Last month, Grambling State University made history within the college football world. But it wasn’t for what they did on the playing field; it was for what they didn’t do in their parking lot.

On Oct. 18, the Grambling State Tigers staged the first team boycott in college football history when only 22 of the team’s 78 players showed up to ride the buses to their game against Jackson State the following day. The small Division I school in northeast La. suddenly found itself in the nation’s spotlight.

When this news first broke, I was surprised and confused. I know how much work it takes to be on any college sports team, being on Case’s baseball team myself. But on top of that, Grambling football isn’t just the average sports team. It was once the home of the legendary Eddie Robinson, the winningest coach in college football history. So why would the players leave a stain on all of that hard work and tradition?

The answer is revealed in a letter that the players wrote to the Grambling administration. It details a laundry-list of long standing issues, the biggest one being the poor condition of their equipment and practice facilities.

They explained how mold and mildew was causing water to leak through faltering walls and ceilings, and how pieces of the floor tiles were missing from their weight room, to go along with their torn-up lifting benches.

Furthermore, they stated that their uniforms were plagued by the same mold as the facilities, which they claimed led to several players being infected with multiple staph infections. A series of pictures sent by a Grambling player to ESPN seemingly provides evidence of these horrid conditions.

As a player, my inclination would be to accuse the administration of negligence. They knew about the poor facilities, so why didn’t they fix them? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so simple.

Over the past few years, Grambling has been hit with severe budget cuts from the state of Louisiana. Since the 2007-2008 school year, the overall state funding for Grambling has dropped from $31.6 million to just $13.8 million, and the whole school has been impacted.

Like many colleges across the country, Grambling has been forced to fire approximately 127 staff members, and to reduce their number of degree programs from 67 to 47.

The rundown, dirty athletic facilities were simply the latest impact of the budget cuts. This is nothing new to the athletic department, which already had to disband the men’s and women’s golf teams in 2010.

What the football players didn’t seem to realize was that the problem wasn’t that the administration didn’t want to provide them with a better facility; the problem was that they couldn’t afford to.

Now, I’m not disputing that the players had a right to complain to the administration. Conditions like that are unacceptable for any school, let alone one with Grambling’s history. There’s already enough risk involved in the game of football. They shouldn’t also have to worry about their pads and weight room as potential sources of disease or injury.

At CWRU, our administration understands the importance of offering good, clean and safe facilities to its student-athletes. Construction is about to begin on the Wyant Field House, a state-of-the-art building that will provide a new weight room and practice area for athletes. You can be sure that Case will never allow the floor to start falling apart in there.

That isn’t to say that Grambling should have built a new facility like CWRU. As a private institution, CWRU doesn’t have to worry about state-mandated budget cuts like Grambling does. But it certainly seems like more could have been done to make their existing facilities safer, even with their dwindling funds.

After a week-long hiatus, the Grambling football players agreed to finish out their season in return for updates to their facilities. Their biggest complaint appears to have been put to bed for now.

However, many more of their grievances remain unaddressed. And in my opinion, they should stay that way.

Among other things, the players’ letter voiced their discontent with the long bus rides they had to make to Kansas City, Mo., and to Indianapolis, stating that the 14- and 17-hour trips left them physically and mentally drained. Furthermore, it mentioned how they were not provided Gatorade and Muscle Milk (a recovery drink) after their summer workouts like they were accustomed to.

Knowing the school’s financial situation, the players should have realized that these complaints were less important than their need for updated facilities, and not even worth mentioning, given the circumstances.

Clearly, the administration felt those were areas where expenses could be cut. Grambling Athletic Director Aaron James stated that bussing to Indianapolis alone saved the department $700,000. But the players undoubtedly viewed these as disadvantages, after being used to a more luxurious experience. Personally, I don’t buy it.

At CWRU, we bus to all of our games, including our annual spring break trip to Sanford, Fla., which takes roughly 20 hours. We’re also never supplied with Gatorade or Muscle Milk; we stick to good old-fashioned ice water.

While it would be nice to have as many luxuries as possible, we’ve never felt that the bus rides or lack of free recovery drinks hurt our performance, and I can’t see it having a different impact on the Grambling football team.

Still, the players felt strongly enough about those petty issues to include them in the same letter as their valid complaints about the facilities and equipment. In the end, they were willing to deal with them in order to finish out the season, but I wonder if they even should have mentioned them in the first place.
Since their school already had to end athletes’ careers due to a lack of funding, shouldn’t they just have been happy enough still having a team to play on?

I’m glad to see that once the safety of the facilities was addressed, the players agreed to finish the year, despite their remaining grievances. After all, football with minor inconveniences is better than no football at all.