Less than a week after walking off the field and refusing to practice or play, Grambling State University’s football team has agreed to return to practice Monday and play the team’s scheduled home game against Texas Southern this weekend, but only after receiving promises that the ugly conditions in which they practice and play will be improved.
Besieged by state budget cuts, Grambling has cut back its funding for football and the results, to hear players tell it, have been horrific. According to a letter from players, the team has taken 14- and 17-hour bus trips to road games. The athletic complex is molded and mildewed and practice equipment doesn’t get sufficiently cleaned, increasing the risk of staph infection. Grambling’s weight room floor is in such disrepair it is dangerous to use. And without enough supplements or protein drinks to go around, players have resorted to rationing them to team members most in need.
“As part of the athletic program at Grambling State University, the football team, took a stance on what we thought was right. We did not quit on our university. There are many problems that exist and if no one says anything, nothing will come of our institution,” defensive back Naquan Smith, who has who has acted as the team’s unofficial spokesperson during the boycott, said in a statement Monday. “Although we are going to continue our season, we have not forgotten the situation and how we’ve gotten here.”
That seizure of power could set a precedent for players to address different issues at other football factories and in the NCAA as a whole. Former players are fighting for compensation for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. Others have sued the NCAA for its lack of treatment on concussions. Organizations representing current and former players are asking the NCAA for better scholarship and health protections, for more rights in the system. And just like Grambling’s players, current college athletes are starting to notice the wrongs of the system around them. Six current football players joined former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon’s compensation lawsuit. In total, 28 players donned the wristbands during games earlier this month to show support for those who are suing and protesting the NCAA and to raise awareness about the issues they want changed.
So far, those efforts haven’t escalated to a walk-out or boycott. They probably won’t any time soon. Nowhere near a majority of college athletes has stood up for voice negative opinions about their situation, even if former players have made it clear that many of those opinions exist. The biggest names at the biggest schools are still content to put up with their time on a college campus and get out without jeopardizing playing time or public perception. College athletes haven’t yet decided to rock the boat on a massive scale. The Grambling case, though, could end up as a reminder of how powerful they will be when they do.