Thursday, August 18, 2011

In For The Kill

Avid readers will recognize that I am a fan of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish Football team. However, Notre Dame not withstanding, I'd characterize myself as a college football fan. The strength of college football, to borrow the liberal catch phrase, is its diversity. The college football universe displays a vast array of offensive and defensive schemes that dwarf the more standardized strategies presented in the NFL.

In the NFL, talent dispersion is even enough that mismatches leading to big plays occur considerably less frequently than in college football. NFL football is beautiful, but teams have a sameness about them that simply doesn't exist in the collegiate ranks. In the NFL, teams change their identities frequently. In college football teams can change identities, but sometimes their identities last through multiple coaching regimes and/or decades. Consider Penn State, with the identity of "Linebacker U." Their coach (Joe Paterno), and their identity have been the same since 1966, a decade before Head Coach Josh McDaniel of the Denver Broncos was born.

Our hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers made a head coaching change prior to this season in hopes of changing their identity held as long as Paterno has coached Penn State: the identity of pathetic losers. Unlike past coaching changes, this one shows some promise. New coach Jerry Kill boasts a 127-73 record in lesser divisions of college football. His 63.5% career win rate gives Minnesotans hope that they can compete for something other than last place.

As an added bonus, Coach Kill has a really cool name. Think about it. Imagine that you are a blue-chip defensive standout at a local high school, the type of player that has eschewed the Gophers for power programs during most of our lifetimes. Coach Kill doesn't have the same goofy ring as Coach Bru, Coach Wacky or Smokey Joe. I suspect that type of player would like to see how tough Coach Kill's team could be.

I could even imagine fans getting involved. Imagine a Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. As the Gophers run out on the field, the stands booms a chant: "Kill! Kill! Kill!"

And that's why I call for the immediate dismissal of coach Jerry Kill. A variety of reasons make him unfit for the Gopher job. Aside from his performance, which would subvert years of Gopher tradition, there is another reason that he cannot continue to coach Minnesota's Golden Gophers: his name is racist.

That's a pretty strong statement, and it might not be true if he were at any other school. However, at Minnesota, the idea of football fans chanting "Kill, Kill, Kill," harkens back to a dark time when we weren't so Minnesota nice. From AOL News "Worst Moments in Big 10 Football History" (emphasis mine):

It might have been an ugly, racially motivated attack which went further than its perpetrators intended.

It might have been a murder.

After 85 years, it's almost impossible to say just what happened on October 6, 1923, in Minneapolis. What is beyond dispute is that Jack Trice, the first African-American athlete at Iowa State, was trampled by at least three Minnesota players while executing a roll block. Though he did not appear seriously injured at the time, Trice suffered severe internal injuries and died two days later.

At the time, Trice's teammates and friends didn't think the trampling was intentional. Minnesota fans weren't so sure. They began chanting "We're sorry, Ames!" shortly after the play. (In the Midwest, it's common to refer to universities by their locations instead of their names.) When you look at what life was like for an African-American college athlete in the 1920s, you can't help but be a little suspicious.

With all of the celebration of Jackie Robinson's triumph in breaking the baseball color barrier, one wonders why the story of Jack Trice, who died attempting something similar a quarter century earlier isn't better known. I blame Don Shelby.

Nonetheless, we can't allow an unfortunately named coach appear to remind us that all of our ancestors didn't share our commitment to diversity.