Grambling players’ push for change

Can you picture a scenario where LSU football players are forced to ask for their Nike-issued uniforms to be washed more thoroughly and perhaps with a name-brand detergent?

How about Zach Mettenberger being forced to lift weights on a busted, mildew-infested bench press?

Les Miles being told that he must store recently donated flooring instead of replacing the tripping hazard in his team’s locker room?

Of course, not.

This is a story of the haves and have nots. For anyone who has attended a Historically Black College or University — myself included — getting by with less is just a way of life.

Before Howard University School of Law raised the funds to build a new law library, students would go to nearby American or Catholic University Law School to take advantage of whatever state-of-the-art resources we could without being an enrolled student.

Waiting in line for an entire day to register for classes or pick up financial aid checks was a rite of passage, because the university could not afford fancy phone or online registration systems. We made do. These were unfortunate and minor inconveniences that we accepted as par for the course and worth the price of studying at an institution with such a rich legal tradition.

Likewise, I’d imagine, Grambling football players must take pride in being part of a program that became a small powerhouse at a time when black players were excluded from major collegiate athletic programs. Just like Howard Law would produce a future Supreme Court Justice in Thurgood Marshall when the University of Maryland refused him admission, Grambling, under the sure hand of legendary coach Eddie Robinson, would produce future Hall of Famers like Charlie Joiner and Willie Davis whose school options were also limited by segregation.

But this isn’t 1954 or 1964. Integration opened up options for young black student athletes and the best among them are going to bypass Grambling or FAMU for LSU or Florida State. The young men who commit to play for Grambling today are well aware of the competitive disadvantages they will face and the small likelihood that they will end up as top NFL draft picks come May.

What they didn’t sign up for? Hazardous working conditions, being forced to bus thousands of miles for the pleasure of playing four quarters of a grueling game, rationing protein drinks, wearing dirty uniforms and breathing in toxic mildew during workouts.

There is a lot of blame to go around for the current state of the Grambling football team today.

They include everything from a seemingly inept administration that was hell-bent on an ill-advised and counterproductive power struggle with one of the school’s most famous alumnus, former head coach Doug Williams, to a state governor locked into a political agenda that included refusing federal stimulus funds that could have put millions into Grambling’s meager coffers.

While the reasons for failure are plenty, the options for these players are not. Which makes the stand they took – refusing to travel to last week’s Homecoming game at Jackson State – that much more admirable. Risking scholarships, this group of young men took an undivided stand to make a statement that things must change.

It is unclear how great these improvements will ultimately be. As of today, we’ve seen some effort at spring cleaning in the locker room and a donation of Muscle Milk so players won’t have to sip and pass, but they got our attention.

Not unlike the HBCU students who came before them who were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, Grambling players have just shown other revenue-producing collegiate athletes across the country that without them, the game cannot simply just go on. That is powerful.

Rebkah Howard is a non-practicing attorney and sports publicist. You can find her on Twitter @pink_funk and on