ORLANDO — Take away the players’ parents, event workers, and even the players themselves, and there weren’t a lot of Black folk seen at this year’s Citrus Bowl. There was an obvious “color” contrast among the reported 48,624 spectators at last week’s Minnesota-Missouri football game at the Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando.
The MSR, during its pregame stadium walk-around, ran into a few “connected” Blacks who were at the game simply because they knew someone who was a participant:
Such as the Wilson family from Philadelphia, there to watch 14-year-old Akua Wilson perform as part of the All American Halftime Show. “This is a good experience for her,” said her father, Leonard Wilson, Sr.
“Our [Black] kids don’t usually see much out of a 10-block radius in Philadelphia,” Wilson told us. “To experience something like this allows them to see the world from different perspectives. It’s also an opportunity for us as a family to come on out and do our vacation out here and see family in these parts.”
Such as Rayfield Dixon, the father of Gopher linebacker Ray Dixon, who drove 200 miles from West Palm Beach, Fla. to the game. “I’m happy to be able to see my son play in a bowl game,” he said.
Such as two local Black females there to pass out souvenirs to fans upon their arrival. The two women, who didn’t want their names published, added that Orlando Blacks are often encouraged to volunteer at these games.
Orlando photographers Terrell Mitchell and Rashan Williamson were there taking pictures of the Florida Citrus Sports (FCS) event staff. “I’ve seen about 50 of us,” observed Mitchell. “There really aren’t many Black people out here, and I expected that,” added Williamson. “This is an event that more White people get into.”
The two men worked the Florida Blue Florida Classic in November that features two HBCU football teams. “It’s definitely a big [Black-White] contrast,” continued Mitchell. “I’d say about 95 percent of us Blacks [are here for the HBCU game, whereas] you may have five percent [at this Citrus Bowl], and that’s a stretch.”
Andrew London, who used to coach youth football in Minnesota, now coaches in Immokalee, Florida. He was there to see Isaac Hayes, a Minnesota sophomore from Brooklyn Park. He recalls once attending a bowl game in Texas and also seeing a low number of Black fans.
“I really do believe it is the cost factor,” London pointed out.
Not seeing more Blacks at last week’s Citrus Bowl wasn’t that surprising, but when asked about it, an FCS official was caught off guard by the question. Senior Marketing and Media Director Matt Repchak admitted, “I guess I didn’t notice it. If you didn’t see that many diverse faces, that is new to me.”
Repchek then pointed out that FCS, a nonprofit group that hosts several big events at the stadium that is smack dab in a highly populated Black neighborhood in Orlando, is intentional in its outreach efforts. “We have a huge participation — 85 to 90 percent from the [local] African American community” in behind-the-scenes volunteer positions, he said.
“Our [FCS] foundation and charitable initiatives are geared at redirecting the money in the neighborhoods towards projects that we are working on with local residents. We want to be good neighbors,” Repchek said.
Considering that the Twin Cities will host a Super Bowl and a men’s Final Four in a few years, will local organizers take FCS’s lead and undertake a similar intentional outreach for more than the usual few sprinkles of color in an otherwise White-dominated presence at Twin Cities large events, especially for behind-the-scenes volunteer positions?
It would be nice to see a few more fans of color joining the “connected” ones.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.