March 24, 2010

Signees, including Lattimore, unfazed by political flap

Three Spartanburg-area USC signees -- including Marcus Lattimore -- say they are unaffected by the reported efforts of black lawmakers urging black football recruits to think twice about their commitments to the Gamecocks because of a lack of diversity on the school’s board of trustees.

Three area University of South Carolina signees say they are unaffected by the reported efforts of black lawmakers urging black football recruits to think twice about their commitments to the Gamecocks because of a lack of diversity on the school’s board of trustees.

Byrnes teammates Marcus Lattimore and Nick Jones, who are black, and Boiling Springs quarterback Dylan Thompson, who is white, said Wednesday they were unaware of any politically charged attempts to make them reconsider their college choice.

USC athletic director Eric Hyman and football coach Steve Spurrier, appearing Wednesday in Spartanburg at the Gamecock Club’s spring banquet, said it was a matter that was out of their hands.

State Rep. David Weeks, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he doesn't think there are enough votes in the Legislature to get lawyer Leah B. Moody appointed to a full term on the 22-member board next month.

Moody is the board’s only black member and is finishing the term of a trustee who resigned before pleading guilty to bank fraud.

Weeks and other lawmakers, including former USC lineman Anton Gunn, a black Democrat from Columbia, said members of the black community were calling recruits and their families, asking them to reconsider playing for the Gamecocks.

“We are asking young athletes to be aware … there are folks in this state who say it’s fine to play ball, but not be on the governing board,” Weeks told The Associated Press.

No lawmakers would say how many recruits were contacted and exactly who was making the calls.

Moody, the lone black board member, was appointed in 2009 to fill out the remainder of the term for Samuel Foster II, who resigned a month before pleading guilty to federal bank fraud charges. The Associated Press reported Foster, the first black member elected to the board in 1984, was set to become the board’s first black chairman until his departure.

Gunn told The Associated Press that Lattimore, one of the nation’s most coveted players, was among those contacted, but the tailback said he was unaware of any calls linked to politicians and said his decision to play football at USC is final.

“I hadn’t received any calls,” Lattimore said Wednesday in a phone interview. “It doesn’t bother me or affect me at all. All there is to it is just how comfortable you feel (at a school). (USC) was my decision. I’m glad I made it and I don’t regret anything.”

Jones said he’d only heard from fans of other schools urging him to attend their program of choice, but he never heard from anybody about a lack of diversity on the board.

“I never got a phone call like that,” Jones said. “(Recruits) really don’t worry about that. We go somewhere and see how they’re going to treat us, and if you feel comfortable there, then that’s where you decide to go.”

Thompson said Wednesday was the first he’d heard of the push from black lawmakers.

“There is nothing like that that has anything to do with football,” he said. “So it’s not something I’m worried about.”

Players who have signed a letter of intent to attend a school would have to sit out a year if they transferred unless their original college choice officially released them from their commitment.

The USC board has 16 members who are elected by lawmakers and six additional members who are either appointed or on the panel because they have high positions in state government or within the university.

“Athletics has absolutely nothing to do with this,” Hyman said. “This is a legislative issue, and it is where the legislators have to work among themselves. The athletic department has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on right now. Politics is what is going on.”

Hyman also pointed out that voting regarding the board’s makeup wouldn’t be held until next month.

“I don’t ever comment on speculation or conjecture about what’s going to happen,” he said.

When asked if he thought just having one black member on the board was enough, Hyman reiterated that “the university has nothing to do with this. It’s a political issue.”

Spurrier said Wednesday was the first he’d heard of the story.

“It was news to me,” he said. “I don’t know a lot about it. Obviously we don’t have any control over any of that. I’m trying to teach our quarterback not to throw interceptions right now, that’s what I’m most concerned about.”

Former USC offensive lineman Na’Shan Goddard, now with the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, was hearing the news for the first time Wednesday, too.

“It’s a shame there’s only one (black trustee), you would love to have (more diversity) in anything you do,” Goddard said. “I’d love more recruits to come here. I came here, and it’s a wonderful school to come to no matter who is on the board.”

USC has more than 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students on its main campus, 3,126 (roughly 11 percent) of whom are black.

“With (22) board members, to not have a single African-American and to send the message around this world that this body does not care about diversity but yet we want to recruit black athletes? You can’t send that mixed message,” Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat and alumnus of the USC law school, said to The Associated Press.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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