Grambling State football players plan to return to practice today and intend to finish the season after boycotting practice last week and forcing cancellation of their game against Jackson State.
“Although we are going to continue our season,” the players said in a letter signed by safety Naquan Smith, “we have not forgotten the situation and how we’ve gotten here.”
Players decided to go back to practice and to play in the final four games of the season after speaking with Doug Williams, the coach whose Sept. 11 firing was a crystallizing moment in their protest. Williams was replaced by George Ragsdale, who was reassigned Thursday when the players staged their protest. He was replaced by Dennis “Dirt” Winston, the defensive coordinator.
On Friday, Williams, whose son is the starting quarterback, had texted USA Today’s Jarrett Bell to say “I’m proud of them boys. They took a stance.” Today, players said he’d told them to “go out there and play football.”
Players had been angry over state budget cuts that allowed facilities to deteriorate (Sports Illustrated has the details) and forced the team to take long bus trips (of 1,200 and 1,500 miles round trip). The final straw was the firing of Williams, who had sought outside funds to improve the weight room, according to SI. The team, which is 0-8 after Saturday’s forfeit, will play three of its last four games at home and Winston said Monday that all players would return to practice.
Here’s the letter from players, via the Shreveport Times:
To Whom It May Concern:
As part of the athletic program at Grambling State University, the football team,took a stance on what we thought was right. We did not quit on our university. There are many problems that exist and if no one says anything, nothing will come of our institution. We hope Coach Eddie Robinson and his legendary players can appreciate that we stood up for what we thought was right. After coming into contact with different sources, we decided to reach out to the one person we trusted, Coach Doug Williams, with our concerns. His main statement to us was, “Go out there and play football.” He also put us in contact with Jim Bernhard out of Baton Rouge. A meeting was held with Mr. Bernhard as well as, Douglas Porter, Ezil Bibbs, Roy Jackson, Henry Dyer and Howard Davis. The meeting confirmed him [Jim Bernhard] as being committed with our best intentions at heart and that he would ensure we had updated facilities, but we had to agree to being back practicing Monday, October 21 and finish the remainder of our season. Although we are going to continue our season, we have not forgotten the situation and how we’ve gotten here. We would like to say thank you to Coach Williams, the Legends and Mr. Jim Bernhard. Grambling has given us the opportunity to be a part of its legacy and we are only looking to improve conditions for the university and future student-athletes.