When we saw the Winston-Salem State logo staring back at us from the television screen, we knew it could not be good. The set was on ESPN, after all, and “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” doesn’t expend its valuable airtime on black college sports unless something untoward occurs – a locker room skirmish, on-field bruhaha, athletic department malfeasance.
As seemingly the entire world now knows, the ESPN report was about a violent confrontation on the WSSU campus that left the team’s star quarterback black and blue and a member of the rival team, Virginia State University, in the slammer. Adding to this sordid drama was the fact that the two teams were slated to play for the CIAA championship the next day and that this West Side Story-ish rumble took place in a restroom just feet away from a formal pre-championship ceremony.
The dynamics of the story were just too irresistible for the media. The story had legs, running halfway around the world just hours after the incident occurred last Friday. By Saturday morning, the name Winston-Salem State University, by default, was omnipresent. Unfortunately, the mention of its name was almost immediately succeeded by descriptions of violence. It is not the way such a venerable institution and accomplished football program wanted to make their international debut.
Coach Connell Maynor’s football team had a story worth telling long before the attack by VSU thugs. He has led the team to one of the best records in the nation. Few schools or coaches – be they black, white, DI, DII, etc. – can toot their own horns louder. His Rams, with their 24 consecutive CIAA wins, were set to win their third-straight CIAA championship Saturday – a certainty that no doubt triggered the opposing, inferior team. The team has earned three straight DII National Championship berths, including last year, when the Rams played for the DII title.
Such achievements are rare in DII play and even rarer among historically black schools, but, like sharks, ESPN and the others were attracted by bloodshed. Mainstream media doesn’t dwell on scandal just for the heck of it. It sells and attracts attention from an audience that publicly abhors violence, yet oddly can’t get enough of it. There were more Facebook posts and Twitter chatter about the bathroom melee than there have been in three seasons of WSSU football milestones.
We are concerned that in the long-run, the attention this story has received will add to the widely-held – and racist – notion that HBCUs are wild and out of control and their sports programs are just a mess. The WSSU story made national waves just weeks after another HBCU football program did. Grambling State’s football players staged a boycott to protest their lack of adequate training facilities and other issues, and the press salivated and tripped over themselves to broadcast the kerfuffle.
We should insist that the national, mainstream media – the ESPNs and Yahoo! Sports of the world – make an effort to broadcast to the world the many things that are going right in black college sports. And we, the public, should celebrate and propagate good news the same way we spread information about death, violence and the like.