Morris: Coaches can help right injustice

March 26, 2010 

I AM NOT ONE TO LEAD cheers, but give me some pom-poms when it comes to the Legislative Black Caucus' latest effort to prevent the University of South Carolina board of trustees from becoming all white.

The Black Caucus could have shrugged its collective shoulders and permitted the legislature to vote yet another white man onto the USC board of trustees.

Instead, the Black Caucus rightfully went public with its fight. Before it was too late, the Black Caucus got the word out that this state is facing yet another calamity. Unfathomable as it might seem in 2010, the 20-member USC board of trustees could be lily white in another month.

What was the most effective way to get the word out that our legislature continues to turn its back on diversity in this state? That is easy: Take the message to the world of sports, where the most citizens will sit up and take note.

Do not think for a minute that the Black Caucus believed it could persuade USC football prospects to change their minds about playing football for the Gamecocks. That was not the purpose of calling USC recruits, according to state Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Richland County Democrat and a member of the Black Caucus.

"What we are encouraging, first and foremost, is the Republican-dominated legislature up here to respect diversity and make sure an African-American gets put back on the board," Rutherford said Thursday. "We're not encouraging anyone not to attend USC. In fact, we would never do so. All we are doing is educating people as to what is going on, hoping that education makes a difference."

The world of athletics long ago championed the cause for diversity, integrating playing fields and basketball courts before our country did the same in education and across society. So it only seems natural for the same avenue to diversity be used in a state where we celebrate our racist past by flying a Confederate flag on State House grounds.

Upon hearing of the Black Caucus' actions on Wednesday, Eric Hyman and Steve Spurrier first begged out of the discussion. By Thursday, Hyman was prepared to take a bolder stand against the makeup of the USC board of trustees.

"It's really important to me to be totally diverse," said Hyman, USC's athletics director. "I think it's very important in all aspects of the university to be diverse and to represent the entire state of South Carolina. It's of critical importance."

We can only hope that Hyman's comments jump-start a wave of support for the Black Caucus on this issue and for the South Carolina NAACP in its fight to move the Confederate flag off State House grounds.

High-profile coaches at USC - and Clemson, too - should be leading the charge for more diversity in this state. When Hyman, Steve Spurrier, Darrin Horn, Terry Don Phillips, Dabo Swinney and Oliver Purnell begin shouting about the injustices in this state, progress eventually will come.

Voices like those will be heard, and can attract a following of the public that can institute change. Those coaches at USC and Clemson are in a position of prominence in athletics to form a collective voice that might even be heard - gasp! - by our state legislature.

Maybe then this state never again will face the prospect of having an all-white USC board of trustees. Do not be fooled, this is not about the vote of one new member to the board. There are 19 - count 'em, 19 - other whites on the board.

Presumably, that is why Gov. Mark Sanford appointed Leah Moody, a 39-year-old black Rock Hill lawyer in September, to replace USC's first black trustee, Samuel Foster, who resigned in the face of federal bank fraud and tax charges.

Moody has opposition for the board seat, which will be voted on by the General Assembly next month, from white Rock Hill lawyer Alton Hyatt Jr. Moody might be the most qualified of the two candidates. At the least, she has experience on the board.

But, just as in any hiring in any profession, the most-qualified person does not always get the job. It often goes to the one who provides the best fit, whether that be for diversity purposes or for mere personality.

If those are the only two candidates, then the legislature should elect Moody for the position. This state cannot face another embarrassment on the national scene, and that is what having an all-white board of trustees at its flagship university would be.

Of course, our state legislature never has been known for doing what is right. That's why we are not recognized across the country for our beautiful beaches and outstanding golf courses. Rather, we will continue to be known for having the Luv Gov, "You Lie!", the Confederate flag and now, perhaps, an all-white USC board of trustees.

Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV).

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