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Colorado State again facing inequality issues

The ugly history of inequality in Fort Collins goes back generations, leaving scars on CSU athletics

Colorado State v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

It was a tough two weeks for the Colorado State Rams and coach Steve Addazio.

And despite the shock waves sent through the community and state after athletic director Joe Parker shut down football activities on CSU’s campus until future notice, previous issues of race and inequality have seemingly receded into the program’s background.

The Rams made national headlines twice in the past month and both stories cast doubt on the strength of the culture in Fort Collins. On August 4th, The Coloradoan provided accounts of CSU coaches telling players not to report Covid-19 cases under threat of losing playing time, and to remain at practice when symptomatic.

“I believe there is a cover up going on at CSU,’’ an anonymous current football player said. “But they could only cover it up so long and now that we have so many cases across athletics, they can’t cover it up anymore. It’s not about the health and safety of the players but about just trying to make money off the players.’’

Three days later, the story of health and safety took a sharp turn with allegations of racism by more than 20 people involved with CSU. As reported by The Coloradoan, Rams football coach Steve Addazio is said to have promoted an abusive and racially insensitive environment. Less than eight months after Addazio came to Colorado State with a strong recommendation from Urban Meyer, an anonymous member of CSU’s coaching staff provided details of hostility Addazio showed toward players over a Black Lives Matter march. This coming after a black player had been held at gunpoint by a white man while working in Loveland, Colo.

“He’s smart enough not to come right out in public and say it, but he thinks BLM is a crock of shit, and that has come out in meetings,” the staff member told the Coloradoan. “When we had the incident with the player, the players wanted to march with shirts that had BLM on it, make posters and say chants. He told them if you are going to do that we aren’t marching.”

The incident with Addazio is reminiscent of a time in history involving CSU’s Border War Foe.

In 1969, the “Black 14” of the Wyoming Cowboys were dismissed from the football program for asking to wear black armbands in a game against Brigham Young University. According to team co-captain Joe Williams, head coach Lloyd Eaton told the fourteen African-American players, upon being released, their “presence defied him” and he had some “good n**ro boys” to play in their place. Wyoming was ranked No. 6 at the time, coming an undefeated regular season before suffering a 20-13 loss to LSU in the 1968 Sugar Bowl.

The following year racial tensions became heavy at CSU. What started as a peaceful protest quickly turned into a riot during halftime of a men’s basketball game against BYU. Like Wyoming’s football players, Colorado State’s student were taking a stand against the Church of Latter-day Saints’ now 190-year-old policy of black men not being allowed in the priesthood.

According to The Coloradoan, “Within a span of 15 minutes, a Molotov cocktail ignited on the floor of Moby Gym, a Fort Collins police officer was assaulted with a piece of metal, patrol cars were broken into and a Rocky Mountain News photographer was hospitalized, all due to the actions of the Black Student Alliance. Or so the the era’s reporting states.”

The Coloradoan: Front Page- Feb. 6, 1970

The front page of the Fort Collins Coloradoan on Feb. 6, 1970 read, “Blacks disrupt basketball game.” The editorial board of the university called CSU’s Black Student Alliance “A dangerous organization,” and the Rocky Mountain Collegian used the N-word to describe those involved.

It’s not the first time the CSU’s Men’s basketball team stood tall in the face of racism. In July 1956, the State of Louisiana adopted several measures supporting segregation. One of those, Act 579, better known as the Athletics Events Bill, outlawed all public interactions between black and white people including sporting events.

According to Charles H. Martin’s book ‘Benching Jim Crow- The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports 1890-1980’, Colorado State scheduled a road trip to Louisiana in December 1957 that never happened. “CSU officials revealed that they would leave the team’s one black member behind for a three-game swing through the state, student protests forced them to reverse course and cancel the trip.”

Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Act 579 was unconstitutional.

Ironically, the incident with Addazio isn’t the first time Black Lives Matter has been the subject of discrimination in Fort Collins. According to The Coloradoan, in March of 2016, “Tensions escalated across CSU’s campus with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Six months prior to the clash over BLM, a confederate flag was displayed in the window of CSU’s Phi Kappa Tau’s fraternity house. According to a statement from the fraternity students, the symbols are “a reminder of their homes or special individuals in their lives.” “The flag, in a simultaneous acknowledgment of history and embrace of modernity, combines both the current South Carolina ‘Palmetto State’ flag and a historic ‘stars and bars’ flag,”

A rise in racially-motivated acts has prompted attention on CSU’s handling of these matters. From Aug. 2017 to July 2020, at least 61 instances of racism or hate crimes were reported, including the hanging of a noose in a resident hall.

Going back further, former CSU athletic director Jack Graham and head football coach Jim McElwain were asked about the 33-percent graduation rate among black football players at an alumni event in 2013. The initial reply was they “Never thought about it” and went on to say “I’ve never seen a solid family structure in a home of a player I recruited,” along with “black people teach their kids to smoke pot at 11 or 12-years-old.” After the comments were reported by The Coloradoan, both McElwain and Graham denied ever saying them. Those same comments were featured in Eddie Comeaux’s book published in 2017, ‘College Athletes Rights and Well-Being— Critical Perspectives on Policy and Practices’.

Colorado State’s student population is 71 percent white, while the city of Fort Collins’ population is about 89 percent white, according to a 2019 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau. Black people makeup 1.6 percent of the city’s population, and the number of black athletes who’re currently on CSU’s football roster is a majority at 62 percent.

A real conversation of diversity and acceptance is well overdue at Colorado State.