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LISTEN: Adolph Rupp defends delayed Kentucky basketball integration in 1971 interview

University Press of Kentucky

University Press of Kentucky

Questions surrounding the legacy of Adolph Rupp resurfaced last week when Kentucky’s department of African-American and Africana Studies stated in a letter to UK president Eli Capilouto, “The University should rename Rupp Arena.” The department argued that Rupp’s name “has come to stand for racism.”

The letter sparked a debate over how Rupp handled race relations in the 60s. It’s not a new conversation. In fact, Rupp spoke candidly about why he did not sign a Black basketball player until Tom Payne in 1969, six years after the school abolished the rule forbidding African-Americans from participating in athletic events and four years after Nate Northington broke the SEC color barrier as a Kentucky football player.

The Courier-Journal’s Jon Hale un-Earthed a 13-minute interview with Rupp from the UK library’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. The conversation took place in October of 1971, right before Rupp’s final season as the Wildcats’ head coach. Rupp explained that it was much more difficult to recruit an African-American to play in the SEC.

“We had a very, very difficult time in doing so, because as you can see a conference that had not allowed Negroes or Blacks to participate up until this time, no one wanted to be the first to break with that tradition. I never felt at all that Negroes should be barred,” Rupp said.

“There was no use for us to recruit colored athletes here for the simple reason that we couldn’t play ’em in conference competition. I had some people say to me, ‘Well why didn’t you drop out of the conference?’ I don’t drop out of a conference. That is a matter for the athletic board, and for the board of trustees to decide the conference that the university belongs to, and not the basketball coaches. It’s just as simple as that. And people don’t do a great deal of thinking when they say, ‘Well, why didn’t you drop out of the conference?'”

At the heart of Rupp’s defense is a tense relationship between the coach and UK administrators. President John Oswald insisted that Rupp recruit and sign a Black player, even if the player just rode the bench. Upon hearing that, Rupp described a “heated” debate with the UK president.

“I can find someone that can get in here but I can’t find someone that could play,” he said. “I’m not going to get someone to have them sit on the bench. I don’t recruit that way. When I recruit, I’m going to get someone that can play.”

There were a few players that fit that bill. Rupp detailed his recruiting efforts to get Wes Unseld, Butch Beard and a few other unnamed players. He even recalled a handshake agreement with Beard, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 1965, who agreed to attend UK before ultimately signing with UofL.

“Now tell me I didn’t make an effort to get these boys. We did. We made every effort that we could and I don’t know if it satisfied the president or not.”


Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

32 Comments for LISTEN: Adolph Rupp defends delayed Kentucky basketball integration in 1971 interview

  1. UKFanSC
    12:24 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    It is becoming obvious that certain BLM and social justice protesters will not rest until their version of history is installed. Sadly our mayors and university administrators are tripping over themselves to accommodate these people, and a misplaced feeling of white guilt is allowing our history to be twisted and perverted by racist liberals.

    If Calipari or the University cowls to these demands it will alienate the core of the BBN and forever change the most storied program in NCAA history. I pray we have enough backbone to tell the AAAS faculty to get lost.

    • tybuki
      12:36 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      “These people” “The core of the BBN”

      Seems legit

    • 4everUKBlue
      12:54 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      I agree with UKFanSC

    • JusSayin
      4:03 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Well, Adolph Rupp aside sense we are now taking the argument beyond basketball I don’t see how pretending the civil war was not about slavery as the south has been doing for over a century isn’t installing their own version of history.

      I don’t agree with changing the name of the arena… or tearing down statues for that matter.

      But if you are going to bring the other aspects of this debate in here let’s not pretend the conservatives don’t have their own “lost cause” version of events which is what these historical debates started over in the first place.

  2. City shuffle
    12:41 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    Headline appears slightly misleading in comparison to quotes you decided to cite, but do what you need for clicks!

  3. Sully
    12:44 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    So, UKFanSC, your version of history is superior to that of “these people”? Your version has been in place for hundreds of years, and I’m sure even you would acknowledge that version is flawed in many respects. Imagine yourself in the black man’s shoes, just for a moment. How would you feel about the version of “our history” your email apparently defends?

    • Zack
      1:20 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      @Sully. It ain’t about anybody’s version. It’s about truth and lies.

    • Wildfelinebeeline
      1:30 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      So, Sully, it seems to me that you marginalized UKFanSC’s comments to fit your argument which is exactly what he was referring to when he mentioned those people. You want to take part of the conversation and use it to win an argument or build an agenda? Then, get use to being called out for it! Not sure where you got your information from that UKFanSC was not black either. Maybe UKFanSC is darker than you and me combined? So, who’s REALLY using race as a tool here? You or UKFanSC?

    • whack0001
      6:12 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Yes exactly. The TRUE version of history is very much superior to that of “these people”. The Rupp being racist stories are made up but of course you don’t care as long as it fits your agenda

  4. UKinIN
    1:36 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    If you want to argue that Rupp’s name should come off of the arena, you need to have a stronger argument than “Rupp wasn’t progressive enough.” If there is evidence of Rupp being hateful toward black people that’s a different story. But after 44 years of social changes since Rupp Arena opened I still haven’t heard any evidence other than “Rupp didn’t want to take the lead in integrating the SEC”.

    • JusSayin
      4:09 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Title: “Adolph Rupp defends delayed Kentucky basketball integration in 1971 interview”

      Content: ~Adolph Rupp explaining why he didn’t have black players.~

      That’s not misleading. That’s what the article was about.

      It didn’t say, “Adolph Rupp supports segregation” or “Rupp didn’t want black players.”
      The title implies an explanation about the delay around signing black players and that’s what you got.

    • UKgrad80
      4:45 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Rupp was not a racist why can’t these people do some research instead of just pointing fingers.

  5. CatManDo
    2:57 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    I have never complained about a KSR headline or article but this headline is incredibly misleading after reading the content. It makes him out to be a villain when he was actually looking out for the interest of the player – why recruit someone to sit on the bench when they could go somewhere else and play?

    • 4everUKBlue
      5:20 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Be careful questioning KSR or they’ll censor you comments.

  6. Good Times
    3:02 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    What bothers me most is how many people have this perception of Rupp as a racist from a theatrical embellishment from Disney, who at the core of every movie they’ve been behind requires at it’s premise a hero and a villain. Until people demonstrate through multiple interviews, quotes, player accounts, etc. that demonstrate a pattern of racism, this proposal should be given no credence.

  7. Good Times
    3:04 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    Also, agree with all the others saying the headline is misleading and should be updated if anyone cares about integrity in journalism. But then again, why should KSR hold themselves to a higher standard. From KSR to the CJ to CNN, it’s about clicks than it is about actually reporting news.

    • 4everUKBlue
      3:06 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Goes even deeper than that. Search for “Out Of Shadows” documentary and watch the entire movie, unless you’re in denial you’re views of things will change.

  8. Heavy C
    3:31 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    HISTORY is just that HISTORY. It’s not anyone version. You have the man’s own words. You realize that…right? Of course you realize it but it’s of no interest to you because all your interested in is disrupting and spreading hate and lies. You represent much of what is wrong with this country.

  9. JusSayin
    4:14 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    I don’t agree with removing his name. And always thought that he was an average man of his time.

    With that said the explanation that he didn’t want a player unless they were going to play a lot of minutes seems odd to me. Every team has a bench and coaches don’t recruit thinking every player will be a star. The idea that a black player had to be Wes Unseld come to Kentucky is kind of problematic and not racially neutral… But I understand his logic.

    I haven’t seen enough evidence to justify the removal of his name in my opinion.

    • UKinIN
      4:51 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      I think you’re making a leap to interpret Rupp’s recruiting goals 56 years after the fact.

    • ColbyKiller
      8:25 pm July 31, 2020 Permalink

      Sounds like he only wanted the best players. Didn’t matter the color. By this interview, he tried to get the best colored players of that time, like nearly every coach does regardless of color. You’re suggesting he should have settled for someone he didn’t think was fit for his team to break the mold to stroke the public’s civil feelings. His position, like everyone’s in recruiting, is to get the best person for their team. Why is it so hard to let someone’s merit or skill set allow them eligibility instead of hiring one for their skin color to appease the public? That in itself is racist. Best person for the job, be it your assistant, trainer, star player, or walk-on, regardless of color. Any change from that is racist whether it be to keep someone of color off the team or to put someone of color on the team if it isn’t to make the team better. Way too much thought being put into what wasn’t done even with effort being proven that there was effort.

    • The Big Lebowski
      8:51 pm July 31, 2020 Permalink

      1. The American Civil War was not fought over slavery. The American Civil War was fought over the right of secession. The South seceded over slavery.

      Those are completely different things.

      Learn history. Not Leftist or Rightist propaganda. Learn history.

      2. Rupp was not a racist. Rupp was a man of his times. Rupp assisted Black athletes in Lexington in attending schools outside of Kentucky.

      3. Rupp tried to recruit Oscar Robertson and Wes Unseld among others. Unseld said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I’m not Jackie Robinson. I am not going to go and try to integrate the South.” Instead, he went to Louisville.

      4. Rupp coached Black athletes on his Kansas high school teams and the ’48 Olympic Team.

      If UK had been in the ACC or the Big Ten, Rupp would not be vilified as he is today.

      BLM, or as I like to call them, the TaliBLM are a far left marxist organization hell bent on disrupting American society.

      If you buy into this blm nonsense, you are a complete moron.

      Rupp was not a racist.

      I have read every book there is on Rupp. I’ve personally spoken to many of Rupp’s players and to Joe B. Hall on the subject.

      People today have become infantile and imbecilic.

      Go rat on your neighbor for not social distancing. People disgust me.

  10. JusSayin
    4:28 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    Adolph Rupp was not especially complicit in segregation relative to other southern coaches… He was probably more progressive in terms of race than a lot of other coaches in the SEC. But Kentucky was the best college basketball program in the south and probably the country at the time and unfortunately, his popularity and his going along with the status quo of the SEC made him the face of their policies in the eyes of a lot of people.

    That’s not necessarily fair to him but that’s why the conversation if complicated.

    • UKinIN
      4:49 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Agree. The more popular you are, the more criticism you attract.

  11. 4everUKBlue
    4:59 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    So now not only has KSR censored two of stuckinloserville’s comments, they censored my comments questioning their censorship. Again is anyone here ok with censorship? Isn’t freedom of speech the first amendment?

    • The Big Lebowski
      8:54 pm July 31, 2020 Permalink

      The Bill of Rights applies to the State. It applies to the government. It does not apply to private property.

      KSR is a private enterprise.

      Learn your government and you won’t look like a fool.

      That said, I agree that Matt Jones is a leftist who hates those who disagree with his political marxism. Jones abhors freedom of thought. He is like most liberals and conservatives in that regard.

  12. 4everUKBlue
    4:59 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    So again Nick, was it you or Mrs TT who is censoring this thread?

  13. light my fire
    5:07 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    Article only proves Rupp wasn’t a racist.

  14. light my fire
    5:11 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    Yes a lot of comments get censored for anything that is against BLM or facts proving liberals wrong

    • 4everUKBlue
      5:25 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

      Yep, they’ve censored at least three of my comments that only questioned they censoring of another commenter’s comments. Maybe they weren’t taught about the constitution at any point of their education.

  15. whack0001
    6:17 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    KRS is full of left wing censoring scumbags.

  16. BigBlueFoo42777
    7:58 pm July 30, 2020 Permalink

    When did people become so sensitive. People need to suck it up and quit taking everything so personal.