Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium will no longer be named after a notorious private prison corporation, after GEO Group announced Monday it would withdraw its $6 million pledge to the university, saying it has “surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction.”
The announcement in February that the university would rename its stadium garnered immediate outcry and protests, and the reaction should not have been so surprising. GEO Group, the second-largest operator of U.S. private prisons, has become known for reports of juvenile abuse, deaths, and riots at its facilities, and has poured money into Florida politics as the legislature considered proposals to privatize the state’s prison health care. GEO executives escalated the controversy over associating college football with prison by falsely denying reports that GEO had overseen a facility that a federal judge described as a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.” The $6 million pledge paid out over 12 years would have been the largest one-time gift in the history of FAU athletics, signaling both the monetary influence of the private prison industry, and its willingness to wield that influence to secure a better reputation. Instead, the company said it would make one $500,000 donation toward the school’s scholarship program.