A spokesman for a group of disgruntled Howard University athletes said yesterday the university has until the end of this semester to meet the athletes' list of 18 "nonnegotiable" demands, or face the possibility the athletes will not compete in the fall.
"We don't feel the proposals are unreasonable at all," said soccer player Jacques Ladouceur, a junior from New York who was selected as a spokesman for the athletes. How many athletes he represents could not be determined, but Ladouceur said the group has received widespread support from athletes on every team at the university.
Among the 18 demands, originally made public before the start of the school's all-sports banquet Tuesday night, is one calling for the removal of Athletic Director Leo Miles.
"We have nothing personal against Mr. Miles. There is no feud. We feel the boycott and our demands were right and necessary," Ladouceur said.
"Talk of boycotting the banquet had been in the air for a couple of weeks. But we didn't decide as a group until we met and voted over-whelmingly to do it last Thursday," Ladouceur said. "We've tried to air our grievances to various people within the hierachy of the university. But they've refused to listen. That left us with no choice but to boycott and issue our demands.
"We want people to know (the athletes) have been divided long enough. We didn't realize how much strength we had in numbers. This union of Howard's athletes is permanent. Whatever affects one athletic program affects another. And we will stand up and fight for each other from now on."
Many Howard athletes became upset in October, when nonscholarship, walk-on football player Ivan Thompson was dismissed from the team by Coach Floyd Keith. Thompson had complained publicly that Keith reneged on a promise of a scholarship and subsequently, that he had to go hungry during the season.
A university task force has since concluded that two members of Keith's coaching staff did physically abuse football players. The report also concluded that the food provided for the athletes was "glaringly insufficient" and that an athletic trainer is "critically needed" to insure the athletes health.
These conclusions have been submitted to Howard President Dr. James Cheek. But he has yet to publicly comment on the report.
Cheek, Miles and Carl Anderson, university vice president for student affairs under whom the athletic department is run, were not commenting yesterday either. All three refused to return reporters' phone call.
The athletes, who said that were tired of waiting for the Howard administration to address their grievances, met with alumni and legal counsel last week to discuss their options in pressuring the administrators.
No soccer players, wrestlers or cheerleaders attended the three-hour awards ceremony in Blackburn University Center. Less than a dozen football players and two basketball players were present. Team members from the spring sports -- track, baseball and swimming -- did attend the banquet.
Basketball Coach A. B. Williamson said the players have made a mistake in going public with their grievances.
"If Georgetown, Maryland or UCLA has a problem, it's dealt with inside the institution, not in the newspapers," Williamson said. "The players should have gone to Anderson as a team and made a formal complaint. We should try all avenues to solve these problems within before dirtying the university's name by running to the media. It hurts us in many, many ways."
The public airing of the athletes' discontent has directly hurt Williamson's recruting. "We could be in bad, bad shape," Williamson continued. "We've never gone this long without signing somebody . . . .
"My players just stayed away from the banquet because they sympathized with players for the other teams. I'm not critical of them boycotting. But they should have told me. They changed their minds at 6 p.m. without telling me. So I'm going to have a few words with them." Williamson said he had no plans to discipline any members of his team.
Williamson also clarified his remarks made at the banquet. At the time, he said players and coaches can transfer or seek other jobs if they are overly disgruntled with the administration of a particular team or athletic department.
"I was just trying to convey to the kids that you can't just change the hierarchy as a coach or a player," Williamson said. "You can suggest changes or offer constructive criticism. And they may accept or reject them. But that's about as far as you can go."
The athletes don't agree. Ladouceur said they "won't compromise or budge, on their demands, which include:
A raise in meal money on all trips.
Increased availability of doctors or certified paramedical personnel at practices and games.
A training table with balanced and nutritional meals.
Separation of the athletic department from the division of student affairs, which Anderson heads.
Removal of all coaches who physically or psychologically abuse players.
Permission for the tae kwon do team to use all athletic facilities and be given financial assistance on all trips.
Overnight accommodations for trips longer than 3 1/2 hours or 250 miles.
"I helped write the demands and I don't think any of them are severe," said soccer player Carl Bonner.
"We'll meet tomorrow (Thursday) night and talk about the effectiveness of the boycott," Ladouceur said.