Updated: Jun 28
The cheer "Gator Bait" has been deemed racist by the UF administration. What shall we do?
This version was edited on Saturday, June 27 to include Steve Spurrier's statement and update the flag story out of Columbia, S.C.
When I was a boy typist trying to learn the trade of my father, he taught me to type:
Now is the time for all good men
to come to the aid of their country.
It meant nothing – just a practice exercise proposed by an instructor. In fact, there is a debate over the correct noun, because some say the word should be “party” and not “country.” Still, it’s good for practicing my typing. Although later I learned “The Quick Brown Fox jumped over the lazy hound dog” as a better one requiring more keys.
These days, I’m NOT going with the word “party” due to all the polarization in politics. What we need is healing—more “aid” for our country and our colleges, if you will—and not misguided party loyalty on either side. Especially if your alma mater happens to be the University of Florida.
By now all Gators know of the imperiled traditions of their school, changes being made at UF over previous injustices, the civil unrest which at time looks and feels like a race war—racism, overt or implied—and some of the reparations being considered.
Most of you want to just get through the Covid-19 crisis and bring on football. Many feel heritage and tradition are being burned at the stake. You’re sick of all the commotion, conflict and consternation. You’d like to get on with life and all the talking and writing about negative subjects. Many of you tell me that while we’re streaming “The Buddy Martin Show.”
This one time, however, I need to explain our official position. So let me get to the issue at hand.
The cheer “Gator Bait” has been deemed racist by the UF administration. According to the student newspaper, "The Florida Alligator", “President Kent Fuchs announced in an email to students that the cheer will no longer be performed by the Gator Band at UF sporting events, due to the ‘horrific historical racist imagery associated with the phrase.’”
My first response, like most others, was one of incredulity. In no way, shape or form did I ever consider the term even the slightest bit racial. But was I naïve to the gravity of the term’s usage? Maybe I needed to listen and be better educated.
Like all changes, however, sometimes it’s painful, but self-introspection is necessary. This is going to have damaging repercussions either way it goes. So I hope Dr. Fuchs is prepared for the storm.
I didn’t take an official poll yet, but many people were blindsided by what they considered a premature action by President Fuchs, and said they objected to what felt like a “knee jerk reaction.”
Had Fuchs been more familiar with the tradition, its origin and intent—most of them said—he could have perhaps determined a better course action on how to separate fact from mythology and folklore.
Some brought up the misguided good intentions of NASCAR over the incident of a noose being found in the garage of African-American driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega which required the services of 15 FBI agents to determine the so-called “noose,” which turned out to be a garage door pull placed there six months ago.
Accuracy is hard to come by these days, whether it’s about Covid-19, politics or race. That’s why we’re so divided in America—because we all brandish our own version of the truth proudly as a badge of honor.
Which brings me to this conclusion: When did it become unacceptable to say, “I don’t know”?
That’s what I call “Rule #1 for Buddy Martin.”
Rule #2 is to find out and then do the right thing.
On my office door are the words of Maya Angelou, which I had read before but copied off the Facebook Page former Gator football star Terrence Barber as a reminder and now my
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
In case you haven’t noticed, the name of this publication which I currently own with my family and (hopefully one day) loyal employees, is-
The day Fuchs made his announcement, my phone began buzzing with texts and calls. “What are you going to do about the name of your publication?” I was asked numerous times.
And so I invoked Rule #1 and said: “I don’t know.”
GatorBait founder David Stirt had told Graham Hall of the Gainesville Sun that when he adopted the name from the cheer, he might have not used it had he known its origin.
The problem is we still don’t know, except stories have been written about the alleged custom of alligator hunters using black children back at the turn of the century to lure alligators so they could be shot and skinned.
It’s a vague reference but the stories today refer back to the Jim Crowe Museum and several cartoon-like postcards depicting young black children about to be used as alligator bait.
According to an internet link, UCLA folklorist and African American studies professor Patricia Turner wrote that “the artifacts depict more than just the presence of a negative stereotype; they implicitly represent a form of aggression in eradicating an unwanted people.”
But even Turner writes that there is no evidence that this ever happened.
The troubling part of it was that the postcards presented some gruesome optics which apparently prompted the UF to distance itself from any suggestion that the cheer was derived from those savage-like practices, if indeed they ever happened.
So what do we do? It’s not my purpose to adjudicate the school’s choice. Each of us has to decide for ourselves what our response will be.
So here at GatorBait we invoke:
Rule #2: To find out the facts and then do the right thing.
Rule #3: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
We are willing to change based on research being done by a Gainesville agency and further study.
Today I am announcing that we have retained the services Make It Happen agency for an independent survey of our readers and to poll our fan base on how they feel about the issue of the use or banning of “GatorBait” so that we may consider changing our 40-year-old trademarked name.
Here is the statement from owner Freddie Wehbe:
“We will begin the research and provide you with an accurate sentiment via a consumer survey. A sample with a minimum of 2000 individual consumers will provide as a guideline for your final decision. We will keep the survey anonymous and limit it to one entry per IP address to avoid skewing the results.”
Spurrier wanted flag down in S.C
From there, I have chosen Rule #4 from The Steve Spurrier School of Reasoning.
When asked about the matter of a Confederate flag flying over the Capital in Columbia in 2015, Spurrier said: "I don't really know anybody that wants it there, but I guess there are a lot of South Carolinians that do." Later he told ESPN, "I realize I'm not supposed to get in the political arena as a football coach, but if anybody were ever to ask me about that damn Confederate flag, I would say we need to get rid of it." In July 2015, it was removed. Gov.Nikki Haley signed the bill.
So what's ahead for GatorBait? I promise you that we will follow the wisdom of Rule #1 and Maya. And proceed with diligence and expediency on No. 2 and No. 3. Spurrier has reaffirmed his position. "I think we need to follow the lead of the president and the athletic director," Spurrier told me.
Confederate flags, of course, are a different matter, but racism comes in many shapes and sizes and forms. Sometimes they just keep popping back up.
EPILOGUE: From the Columbia State: "Three years after South Carolina removed the Confederate flag with pomp and circumstance from the grounds of the S.C. State House, the flag's shadow fell across the north lawn of the state capitol again Tuesday.
In what has become an annual ritual, about 30 flag supporters stood in the warm morning sun to honor what they consider their heritage, placing the flag back in the place where it stood for 15 years as "Dixie" blared over loudspeakers.
Organized by the S.C. Secessionist Party, the 10 a.m. ceremony marked the third anniversary of the flag's removal from the State House grounds. But, with the passage of time and the anniversary falling on a Tuesday this year, the crowd was smaller than it has been in past years.
Read more here: https://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/article214555950.html#storylink=cpy