In this latest installment in our “Only One” series, we are in search of Black fans at college football games. This week the Only One returns to the U of M campus.
Nearly three hours before kickoff at each Minnesota home game, new Coach P.J. Fleck and his players, the school band and cheerleaders greet fans as they enter the stadium. The new Ski-U-March replaces the old Victory Walk.
The Only One used a scaled down version of this before last Saturday’s Gophers-Middle Tennessee contest as we stood outside the stadium’s student gate looking for Black students. One Black female told me she was in too much of a hurry to get to her seat to talk to us, but she would talk three hours later if I waited.
“This is Minnesota,” said another in-a-hurry Black female who advised this longtime reporter of the school’s lack of diversity, but she wished us luck in our search.
“I’ve seen two,” reported a Black security person who checked game attendees at the game.
About a half hour later, we caught a Black male putting the finishing touches on his hot dog at a nearby tailgating event. “It’s a thing to do on a Saturday during the day,” Gabriel Amare, a senior from Woodbury, told us. He was wearing his Golden Gopher gear, enjoying spending time with his tailgating friends and “good food.”
However, he let me in on his secret: “I’m not actually going to the game,” admitted Amare. “I’m going to eat, go home, do some homework and probably watch the game on television. I know a lot of [Black] students who don’t go — there are not a lot of students of color on campus. They’d rather stay at home.”
The young man also noted, “I bought season tickets in my freshman year.” He since stopped going to football games because of the length of games and the season ticket price, around a hundred dollars at the time. Amare brought to mind when we Black students at a predominantly White Big Ten university decades ago didn’t go to football games due to the cost factor.
Scout.com recently published a list of student ticket prices for each Big Ten school. Minnesota’s $13 per game is 10th among Big Ten schools — Ohio State is the most expensive ($36 per game) and Illinois the cheapest ($7.50 per game). Maryland and Northwestern both charge nothing because football tickets are included in the tuition.
Inside the stadium, the Sanders family from Georgia was settling in their seats. It was their first time not only at a Gopher game, but also in Minnesota.
“I’m here to watch Middle Tennessee State. My brother plays linebacker for them,” said Derek Sanders of his younger brother D.J. Sanders, a senior who is second on his team’s all-time interception returns for touchdown (three) in a career.
When told of our month-long quest, Derek, who now lives in Atlanta, said finding Blacks at college football games aren’t a problem where he’s from. “A lot of Blacks follow Alabama [the school he attended and played football at]. Football is everything in the South.”
If this is true, like they say in real estate, finding Blacks at college football games is all about location, location, location.
Three Saturdays down, one to go: Next week the Only One’s month-long search takes him to the Twins’ ballpark.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.