NAACP questions reprimanding of UL athletes

Megan Wyatt
UL coach Mark Hudspeth has apologized for the actions of four Ragin' Cajuns players seen in a profane Donald Trump-song locker room video.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette chapter of the NAACP wants the school's administration to rethink taking disciplinary action against Ragin' Cajun football players depicted in a profane locker room video that went viral last week.

The video in question depicts several student-athletes in the locker room dancing and singing to the lyrics of YG and Nipsey Hussle's rap song "FDT" (F--- Donald Trump).

Most of the football players seen in the cellphone video are African-American.

The four players initially involved faced disciplinary action last week, and additional players now face disciplinary action, Hudspeth said earlier this week.

In an open letter, the NAACP and other student organizations pressure the UL administration to lift the disciplinary action against four student-athletes and "remain unbiased and consistent" in their issuing of disciplinary action.

"As these athletes face a hardship known exclusively to minorities and their allies, as they seek a safe space to communicate their frustrations, the question remains: Can they depend on their school to support and protect them as our country revisits its familiar history of intolerance?" the letter reads.

"Can the students of UL rely on the university to protect our inalienable rights?" the letter asks. "Will the university arise to its promise of celebrating diversity? Or will it bend beneath the pressure of bigotry?"

The open letter is addressed to football coach Mark Hudspeth, UL President Joseph Savoie, and university faculty and staff.

It is signed by the UL chapters of the NAACP, Black Male Leadership Association, Black Woman Leadership Association, Students for the Advancement of Women, African Student Association, National Pan-Hellenic Council and Black Student Union.

UL administration did not respond to a request for comment Friday. The UL, Lafayette and national chapters of the NAACP also did not return requests for comment.

The letter opens with a reminder to the university of its promise to celebrate diversity among students. It then questions why pro-Trump graffiti on the campus last week resulted in no action while football players singing rap music in a locker room did.

Lines such as "F--- your safe space" and "Build a wall" appeared in chalk on the campus Nov. 9.

UL police have not identified suspects involved in that incident. Should a suspect be identified, he or she would face a charge of simple criminal damage and could face disciplinary action from the university, according to Lt. Billy Abrams, spokesman for the UL Police Department.

The day of the graffiti incident "an arguably vague letter" was issued by UL President Joseph Savoie, according to the student organizations' letter to UL's administration. It didn't mention the graffiti incident but instead reminded students of the right to freedom of speech, the open letter said.

The "arguably vague letter" might refer to a blog on the university's website published Nov. 9 under the UL Office of the President. The blog, titled "Standing, Learning Together," addresses the tense climate following the presidential election.

"University campuses are places where men and women of all races and religions should be able to exchange ideas and learn from one another," the blog reads. "We grow as human beings by listening to others who have different backgrounds and experiences. The University strives to provide an environment that nurtures healthy discourse."

The open letter questions why the university has chosen to punish the players for exercising the right of freedom of speech.

"It does not follow that students should be punished for using profanity in the locker room when it was permissible only a week previously," the open letter reads. "By reprimanding these athletes a dangerous precedent has been set in the establishment of a 'Big Brother' relationship between the university and its students."

Although the First Amendment protects Americans' right to free speech without fear of retaliation from the government, it does not prevent a university from reprimanding a student for speaking in a way that might reflect poorly on the school or team.

The open letter says that other videos exist of the student-athletes swearing as they sing along to rap songs while in uniform, and the university hosted Lil' Wayne, a rapper known for vulgar language in his music, earlier this year.

"Why then is the enjoyment of rap music, a unique form of cultural expression especially in the African-American community, only accepted if it is commoditized by the university?" the letter said. "Why has the university chosen to punish players for exercising their freedom of speech? Does freedom of speech not extend to rap lyrics infused with profanity? Why have the student-athletes been punished for protesting in the safe space allotted to them as students and champions of the university? Does the university take umbrage with the crudeness of rap lyrics or the denouncing of Donald Trump? Why are the players' comments against a man who fans the flames of intolerance condemned so harshly? Why is some free speech protected while others are persecuted?"

The student-athletes have faced criticism for the video, but their coach has faced even harsher criticism for his initial response to the video.

“Obviously the hand gestures and the lewd language were very disappointing, especially toward one of the candidates," Hudspeth said last week.

“But I will say this: It’s also disappointing that so many people have vilified a few 19-year-olds making some immature decisions, and then they were the same ones that voted for someone that has done much worse by grabbing a female in the private areas for the office of the (President of the) United States of America.”

Hudspeth has since apologized for his words and has announced new locker room policies for the team.

Players will no longer be permitted to film in the locker room, and music in the locker room and common areas will now be played by the team's video department instead of through players' phones.