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Gazzolo Column: Plenty of blame to go around at Grambling

Last Modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 9:28 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Eddie Robinson must be rolling over in his grave.

Or at least hiding his eyes.

It is good that the man who made Grambling football a national symbol of hope and pride is not around to see what is happening to his program.

Grambling football is a complete mess. Make that a complete and embarrassing mess.

Once the showcase for smaller college football, the program has become a symbol for budget woes, cutbacks, political infighting and mismanagement.

Last week the players said enough to long bus rides, poor and decaying facilities and a lack of leadership from the administration.

They aired their dirty laundry — literally.

One of their biggest concerns mentioned was that game and practice jerseys were not properly cleaned, leading to what players believe are unhealthy conditions all around and an outbreak of staph infections.

To show how bad things are, the players went public with their concerns by first not practicing and then not getting on team buses to play Jackson State last Saturday.

On Monday, players decided to return for the rest of the season with the hope they got their point across. However, the damage has been done.

Jackson State won Saturday’s game by forfeit but lost the homecoming game, and the reputation of Grambling has been tarnished.

It will be some time before the stench of this mess wears off.

The players, all of whom knew the situation when they went to the school, won’t win in the end, even if they get changes they are asked for. The school took a huge hit to its legend as well.

But the biggest losers in all this mess is school’s officials.

“It’s horrible,” Grambling President Frank Pogue told ESPN about the game not being played.

He was only talking about the forfeit and the players’ revolt. Pogue once again missed the bigger picture.

Officials did fire the student online editor of the school’s newspaper for tweeting out the photos that exposed the hideous conditions. Apparently never hearing about freedom of the press, they hurt the very students they are entrusted, and paid, to educate.

The same clowns pointed the finger at the Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state, claiming recent budget cuts were the biggest cause of the program’s demise.

No question school officials have been asked to do more with less, but that doesn’t make Grambling unique. Other Louisiana schools, including our own McNeese State, have been forced to deal with these same cuts.

“We have had to make some hard decisions, but we never want to have the players feel the cuts,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator.

Clearly that is not the case at Grambling.

No other small school has the national following and tradition quite like Grambling to draw from. It is the face of historically black college football.

That’s why it is up to the officials to find a way to either cut the program or keep it going.

Here is where Pogue and his crew lose the moral high ground. If the program has become unsafe for players then it is all on them.

No finger pointing needed, just a look in the mirror.

The top priority for school officials is to give students, even student-athletes, a safe environment to live and learn in. Everything else is secondary.

Parents hand their children over to colleges believing they will be taken care of at the very least. One look at the pictures coming out of Grambling show that was not the case.

Asking players to represent a university with class and dignity without showing them the same is at best hypocritical. Some might say it is even criminal.

Petty politics have gotten in the way and made matters even worse.

Last year then-head coach Doug Williams raised funds for a new, safer floor for the weight room. Williams, a school legend who was ultimately fired earlier this season, didn’t go through proper channels.

His punishment? The school put the new floor in another room on campus.

If Grambling officials can’t find a way to provide a safe environment for their players, or don’t want a program, then they should admit it and kill it now.

It would be a mercy killing.

If they are unwilling to pull the trigger, they should step aside and let somebody who cares try to save the day.

One of the biggest complaints by players was that they had to ride a bus 15 hours to a game in Indianapolis while their opponents from Alcorn State flew.

Also taking a plane to the game was Pogue and athletic director Aaron James.

Apparently leading by example is not a part of the Grambling way either.

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Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at

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