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Another tradition has fallen at a major American institution of higher learning as administrators at the University of Florida announced Thursday they will no longer sanction the school’s “Gator Bait” fight cheer, citing alleged historical racial insensitivity.
In a letter announcing the new policy as well as additional changes, university president Kent Fuchs told staffers, faculty, and students that the cheer is associated with a “horrific historic racist imagery” that involves blacks, and especially children, being used as bait for alligators.
“Accordingly, university athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer,” Fuchs wrote, though he failed to explain why the university had not banned the cheer sooner or whether there had been complaints about the cheer currently or in the past.
The Southeastern Conference university’s sports teams are nicknamed the “Gators,” for the reptile that is common to the state. In the past, the university’s band would play a “gator bait” tune while fans responded with their arms making a chomping motion while screaming the slogan, The Associated Press reported.
The AP added.
The link to racism is borne out by news articles in years past. For example, in 1923, Time Magazine published a story about how “colored babies were being used for alligator bait” in Chipley, Florida.
“The infants are allowed to play in the shallow water while expert riflemen watch from concealment nearby,” the article said. “When a saurian (alligator) approaches this prey, he is shot by the riflemen.”
The Chipley Chamber of Commerce reportedly responded to the article by labeling it a “silly lie, false and absurd.”
In modern times, however, the ‘Gator bait’ cheer contained no racial connotations at all and instead referred to opponents of Florida’s sports teams.
Other measures that Fuchs announced include:
— The creation of a presidential task force that will “document the history of UF in relationship to race and ethnicity, particularly African Americans and Native Americans.”
— Another task force to “review and recommend values, principles and reasons for establishing and maintaining honorary namings, both historic and current.” This task force “will further recommend a process for individuals associated with UF to be identified and considered for future honorary namings in accordance with current values and principles, and may suggest individuals for future consideration.”
— Fuchs also announced he is “personally committed to removing any monuments or namings that UF can control that celebrate the Confederacy or its leaders.”
“While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” he wrote. “Accordingly University Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer.”
Fuchs also said that the University Police Department and that of the City of Gainesville, where the school is located, “have committed with city and university leadership to review use of force policies, report their findings to the community, institute needed reforms and engage the community by including a diverse range of input and experiences.”
“I am charging the university’s leadership, acting within state and federal laws, to intensify our efforts in recruiting, supporting and retaining our students, faculty and employees of color, particularly Black students, faculty and staff,” he added.
“It is past time for UF to commit and engage in this challenging, uncomfortable, transformational work. We know that we cannot undo lifetimes of injustice and racism, but we believe we can make progress – in education, in advancing truth, reconciliation and justice, and in anti-racism, equality and working to eradicate inequities,” Fuchs concluded.