Gophers in Motown

This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.


DETROIT, Mich. — There are countless, faceless people who work athletic contests: ticket takers, concessions sellers, restroom attendants and post-game arena clean-up crews. These are folks too often taken for granted by fans and others in their rush to reach their seats by game time.

However, these are the preferable folk — the blue collar working stiffs that the Only One, himself, a proud card-carrying working stiff, looks for at games such as Monday’s Minnesota-Central Michigan bowl game at Detroit’s Ford Field. They have countless stories to tell, and if they and I had the time, these tales could easily fill a reporter’s notebook.

“I love talking,” says “Betty.” (We respected her and other workers’ request not to use their real identities.)

An estimated eight out of every 10 workers are Black at the Detroit Lions’ home turf a couple of blocks downtown, south of Interstate 94, said “May,” a first year usher.

“Joan” told us that none of her supervisors look like her — as a result, the workers are Black but their bosses are not.

Tamiko Giles, who didn’t mind that we used her real name, is a native Detroiter. She works in the seventh-floor media dining area outside the press box at Ford Field. “I’ve been a banquet server since 2010,” she said, adding that this job is preferable to the job she had at a national hotel chain.

“I love banquet serving,” continued Giles. “It’s better than [working] fast food. We get paid more than minimum wage.” Giles works with “Gladys,” who also works next door at Detroit Tigers baseball games. Both Black females told us that, for the most part, media members are courteous to them while they are doing their jobs serving them.

“I really enjoy my job,” noted Gladys. “They teach you to have a smile and always speak [to media members],” she said, regarding the mandatory workers orientation sessions she and others attend. “We always have to have a smile …and help people out.”

“I’ve been here ever since the building has been here,” Betty proudly said of her seniority status at Ford Field, opened in 2002.

Tales from Motown

Donne Wynn
Donne Wynn

Donne Wynn, a native Detroiter, was glad to see Minnesota play its first ever bowl game in her hometown. “A lot of people don’t like Detroit because of its reputation,” she told us after the game — Wynn was there to watch her friend, freshman defensive back Ray Buford of Southfield, Mich. “Some of his teammates came over to his house, and we took them to the mall.  We showed them that [the city] is not all bad.”

“It’s a growth experience for our players” to spend some time in Detroit, added University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler.  He told the MSR after the game, “They got to see the [Ford] Museum. They got to go to the Lions game [on Sunday], and our seniors got to go out with a win.”

When asked about the diversity of the key bowl, Lions’ Director of Corporate Communications Ben Manges had this to say via email: “The Detroit Lions are the only NFL team to own and operate a bowl game. The organization is committed first and foremost to hiring good people; in doing so, the Detroit Lions have established a diverse work environment for which we’ve been recognized for several times this past year.”

Gophers celebrate after win
Gophers celebrate after win

A Minnesota official told us that 4,200 Gophers fans were among the 34,217 announced attendance at Monday’s bowl game. This lends credence to the popular notion that Minnesota football fans, unlike other Big Ten schools, usually don’t travel to see their team play. “We won the game, no matter how many fans we had here,” responded Kaler proudly.

“We were pleased with the attendance in year two of the Quick Lane Bowl based on ticket distribution and actual attendance — especially considering the travel difficulties that developed due to a somewhat unexpected ice storm,” said Manges, when asked about the attendance of Gopher fans. He added that they received good feedback from student athletes, coaches and administrators and that the year’s game was “highly competitive until the very end.”

Monday’s win gave the Gophers a 27-23 mark in its last 50 games. Minnesota, who finished 6-7, also improved to 7-11 in bowl games — its seven-point win over Central Michigan (7-7) Monday was its first bowl win since a victory over Alabama in the 2004 Music City Bowl, also attended by the Only One.


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