Last month, faculty members of the African-American and Africana Studies (AAAS) program at the University of Kentucky submitted a letter to President Eli Capilouto asking for Rupp Arena’s name to be changed.
The faculty pointed to former Kentucky head coach Adolph Rupp’s past and how his name has “come to stand for racism and exclusion in UK athletics and alienates Black students, fans, and attendees.” It was one of several issues that they brought forth to Capilouto, although it became the primary talking point.
On Friday, over at The Undefeated, Jesse Washington posted a thought-provoking article titled “Kentucky must reckon with the full meaning of Adolph Rupp” that went on to explain reasons why the University should look to change the Rupp Arena name.
"In the coming months, the University of Kentucky will decide whether the dignity of Black people is more important than Rupp’s four rings and 876 wins."
Kentucky must reckon with the full meaning of Adolph Rupp
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) August 7, 2020
In the article, Washington points to Rupp’s use of racist language in the past as a reason why the current version of Kentucky should remove the name. Washington argues that it could take more recent players such as Anthony Davis, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, etc. as the people whose voices promote a change.
There is one quote, in particular, from Harry Lancaster, who was one of Rupp’s assistant coaches and later became Kentucky’s athletic director, that gives a glimpse into why there is a portion of fans in favor of the name change.
Rupp told people as early as 1960 that he wanted to sign Black players, and hired a white assistant coach, Neil Reed, for that purpose in 1962. He unsuccessfully recruited future stars Wes Unseld in 1964 and Butch Beard in 1965. After the Texas Western game, Rupp was under heavy pressure from his university president to sign a Black player, even for the end of the bench. Lancaster wrote that Rupp told him, “Harry, that son of a b—- is ordering me to get some n—–s in here. What am I going to do?”
There are quotes from Pat Riley, Tubby Smith (Kentucky’s first Black head coach), and a UK Black studies professor within the piece, as well. Washington tried to gather comments from several former Wildcats and current head coach John Calipari, but was unsuccessful.
Whether or not the University will elect to change the name or not has yet to be determined. Earlier this year, a partnership between UK and Central Bank renamed the iconic basketball arena to “Rupp Arena at Central Bank”. Shortly after the announcement, Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart said he does not plan on changing the name.
“The name is tied to Coach Rupp and the Rupp family is so important for us, to protect that name and to make sure it is always remembered as the iconic place, family, name, leader of college basketball. Thank you for that. We intend to preserve that forever.
“It has to be Rupp Arena,” Barnhart continued. “When you’re recruiting, when you’re having teams come in here to play and people come in here, this is Rupp Arena. It’s set apart from all other places. … This one’s been this way for almost 50 years, and it can’t change.”
You can read the entire post by Washington over at The Undefeated by clicking the link here.