Monday, January 23, 2006


The Cincinnati Post - Wildcat fans question movie portrayal

The Cincinnati Post - Wildcat fans question movie portrayal: "Last month, WKYT-TV in Lexington aired a documentary - funded in part by the University of Kentucky - that casts Rupp in a far more flattering light than even the edited version of the movie. Based on interviews with former players, coaches and beat writers, it suggests Rupp not only wasn't a racist but spent years actively searching for the ideal player to break the basketball team's color barrier.
Dick Gabriel, WKYT's sports manager who produced the documentary, said the issue wasn't home games in Lexington but Southeastern Conference road games in the Deep South. A black player for Kentucky, a disliked program already because of its immense success, would have been subjected to far greater scrutiny than one playing on another SEC team, Gabriel said.
'The South was a dangerous place for African-Americans to begin with,' Gabriel said. 'Rupp knew his teams were already hated. He said, 'Imagine what it's going to be like when we go down there with a black player who can't stay at the hotel where we stay, can't eat at the restaurants we eat?' Had he not tried to recruit the perfect player - a superstar - then he wouldn't have taken nearly as long.'
In 1969, Rupp signed the school's first black player - Tom Payne from Louisville, who spent only a year at Kentucky before entering the National Basketball Association draft. By the time Payne joined the Wildcats, the rest of the SEC was almost fully integrated.
At the end of 'Glory Road,' a screen note credits Rupp for recruiting Payne and points out the university's current basketball coach - Tubby Smith - is black. Smith took his players to see the film this past week."

I have not seen the movie and will likely share my thoughts on it after I do, but there have been some interesting things happen that I can share now. My Dad, Grandmother (Granny), and Uncle went to see the movie a couple of weeks ago. They are all die-hard Kentucky fans. They each liked the movie. My Dad didn't have much to say about it, but Granny said that it was pretty accurate. She said that, in that time period, civil rights had not yet come to the fore.
My Uncle, interestingly, went to the University of Kentucky that year, before moving to North Texas for specialized jazz studies. He was at every home game and passed Rupp during games at Memorial Hall. Granny said that he felt really strange watching the movie, because it depicted a time in his own life that he felt really close to, as anyone would when referring to their freshman year in college. He, along with most other UK students and fans, idolized Rupp. Most of us still do. I didn't sound like he argued much with the premise. He would have been the most likely, because most of his heroes at the time were African-American jazzers.
Present-day, there are no issues with African-Americans in Lexington. We love Tubby, even in a year when we are performing less than our norm. We embrace our players regardless of their color. Tubby was the first African-American member of one of Lexington's country clubs. My Great-Uncle has been a member there for many, many years. When Granny, his sister, asked him how he felt about it, my Great-Uncle said, "it's about time".
Another big honor in the state of Kentucky is the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. While there is no complete listing of members, the website boasts Kentuckians like Ali, and other African-Americans.
And as I have noted here before, Northern Kentucky is very proud of its history as the last loving stop on the Underground Railroad. It was one of the most inspiring parts of our history when I was a child. I knew that the brave people of that area in that era knew better than to treat people as less than people. They were way ahead of their time, and they were right.
It is important to both look at the movie in the context of the time period as well as in the context of the progress that has so clearly been made. Kentuckians are a very proud people. We are proud of the coaching of Rupp. We are proud of our history as helpful in freeing African-Americans. And, even in a less than stellar year, we are proud of our Wildcats and Tubby.

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