CHARLOTTESVILLE, NOV. 9 -- Virginia defensive end Chris Slade, one of 13 black starters on the 11th-ranked Cavaliers, said today it would be "hypocritical" of the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., to host an event involving black athletes. Slade also expressed strong reservations about the team playing in the New Year's Day game should Virginia be invited.
"They figure they can get money off the black athletes, so why not use them?" Slade said. "I'd feel somewhat used because I'm black and Martin Luther King means a lot to me. We have to have second thoughts because they don't respect his day."
The controversy has been brewing for some time in Arizona, but it came to a head this week when voters defeated a referendum that would have adopted Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a holiday in the state.
"I definitely would feel uncomfortable playing out there knowing they don't celebrate Martin Luther King Day," said the defensive end, who leads the team in sacks. "It's frustrating to know that society is still like this and that a certain state is not going to celebrate his birthday. It's going to have an effect on the team."
A decision seems inevitable since Fiesta Bowl officials already have decided to invite the Cavaliers, according to a report in the Roanoke Times & World Herald.
Although other voices on campus have been raised against Virginia going to Tempe, at least one athlete and the student council president questioned the effectiveness of a boycott.
"It's definitely an unfortunate situation," said Virginia Student Council President Lee Barnes, the first black in school history to hold the office. "But Virginia should go as far as they can go and play wherever they can play. You have to decide why you're starting a war, and pick your battle carefully. It would be one thing if boycotting would have an effect on Arizona voters, but that's unlikely."
In its lead editorial today, the Cavalier Daily, the Virginia student newspaper, urged President John Casteen and Athletic Director Jim Copeland to use caution before committing to the Fiesta Bowl.
"The Fiesta Bowl may very well be Virginia's best bowl opportunity this year," the paper's managing board wrote. "But that doesn't mean the University community shouldn't stop and consider things other than the riches and glory that accompany a New Year's Day game."
Virginia Coach George Welsh, queried about the situation before leaving this afternoon for the Cavaliers' game Saturday at North Carolina, said he has not been contacted by either Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder -- the nation's first elected black governor -- or the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, whose son Yusef is a Cavaliers linebacker. Asked if the matter concerned him, Welsh replied, "Not right now, we're playing North Carolina."
Casteen and Wilder declined to comment on the issue through spokesmen this afternoon. Jackson could not be reached for comment.
School and bowl sources indicated Tuesday morning that Virginia would accept an informal invitation to play in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Arizona vote caused school officials to reconsider their prospects.
Rick Turner, dean of the university's Afro-American Affairs, said Thursday that Arizona didn't deserve "any citizen from the state of Virginia or a quality institution like the University of Virginia," and that he would discuss the issue with Copeland this morning. Neither returned phone calls today.
The Fiesta awards each team between $2.5 million and $2.8 million, which would be the biggest payday ever for Virginia, which last season received a berth to the Florida Citrus Bowl -- its first New Year's Day game. Morrison Warren, a member of the Fiesta Bowl's board of directors, served as the bowl's president and became the first black member of a bowl board. The bowl has given its staff a paid holiday for Martin Luther King Day the last two years.
Tackle Paul Collins said the impact of Virginia, which has two black captains and four black graduate students, playing in the bowl would be "a positive thing."
"I don't see how in this time and age, an attitude like that can still permeate our society," he said. "But I think we can have a positive effect by going there and showing these people that they're missing the boat. We could do a whole lot more justice going out and participating in their bowl. I think it would be a bad precedent by not going out there."
Official bowl invitations can be extended Nov. 24, although most bowls complete informal agreements long before that date. Fiesta officials indicated this week that Copeland told them following the Cavaliers' 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech that he was very interested in the Fiesta.
"We don't know what's going to happen yet," Slade said. "It might get to a point where we have no real choice -- either the Fiesta or a smaller bowl. It's a shame we have to make a decision on a bowl because of a racial issue, but if push comes to shove we'll go play in another bowl instead of playing in Tempe if the people in Arizona feel that way about Martin Luther King."