The truth about traveling football trophies

Courtesy of U of M Athletics
Getting to the roots of University of Minnesota racism

In the “Color Purple” movie there was a scene where Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg) looked at her husband and told him, “You need to do right by me” as she pointed two fingers directly into his face because of the abuse he had subjected her to all those years. We need to similarly point out to the University of Minnesota its racist past so it can do right by those it has abused.

At the last two home games between Michigan and Iowa, Minnesota players, coaches, and staff stood up in attention while looking at the big screen for a two-minute presentation on injustice and racism within the University of Minnesota‘s Athletic Department. I know it’s hard to talk about this subject, but it needs to be clear and it needs to be factual.  

There are no more than three to four former football players that get talked about at the University of Minnesota. We see the great Sandy Stephens, Bobby Bell, Tony Dungy, and sometimes we might hear Darrell Thompson mentioned. However, there are hundreds of African American football players who gave their lives and their souls to the field at the University of Minnesota, and their stories need to be seen and heard as well.

These traveling trophies—the Little Brown Jug and the Floyd of Rosedale Pig—have a deep history of incidents of racism and pride from former and present student athletes of African American descent. We need to know about them.  

Recently the University of Minnesota football team got beat by the University of Iowa in football 34 to 7. We haven’t won a game against Iowa since 2014 (MN 51- IA 14). I guarantee you that 98% of the football players at the University Minnesota do not know who Ozzy Solomon is and why his play had a significant impact in that game against Iowa.

I asked two former Golden Gopher greats if they understood why they were playing for the Floyd of Rosedale Pig. The first was Bobby Holmes, running back for the Gophers 1973-1976. He played with Tony Dungy, Mike Jones, and Rick Upchurch.

Bobby graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in child protection and social work. He earned his master’s degree in criminal justice at Concordia University and was inducted into the Pennsylvania High School Football Hall of Fame in 2014. 

To my question about the trophy Bobby replied, “I did not know anything about the Floyd of Rosedale or the history. I just went out there and played the game. Over the yearstheonly thing I knew was thatI thought wewere playing for a bronze pig. I did not have a clue about the racist incident behind why the pig was made. 

“Sometimes,” Bobby said, “it’s best to tell the players the history so they would have a better understanding of what they were playing for and why we need to beat the other team.” 

The second person I interviewed was Judge Walter Bowser, one of the greatest athletes and scholars to comeout of University of Minnesota Athletics. In football he played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and defensive back. He made All Big 10 in two sports, football and tennis.

Before he went to play professional football, Walter graduated from the University of Minnesota with a law degree, then signed a contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Walter served on a Big 10 advisory committee for former athletic directors Rick Bay and McKinley Boston. Now he serves as a Worker’s Compensation judge for the state of Minnesota. 

He told me, “When it came down to the Little Brown Jug and The Floyd of Rosedale, I did not understand either. I came here to play and play to win! I saw some of my teammates had a different understanding about the tradition, but I did not have a clue. I came here for one reason and one reason alone, and that was to win!” 

“Now,” Walter continued, “since I look back and see what needs to be told, it’s important for our present athletes to understand the reason why they have scholarships and that the African American student-athlete at the University of Minnesota with this rich history and knowledge is more than just an athlete. They are the pinnacle of the University of Minnesota’s Athletic system of greatness on and off the field!”

When it’s time to play Wisconsin, the last chance for a traveling trophy during the year, the Axe, I hope theplayers understand exactly what is truly expected from them. That is to understand that the University of Minnesota needs to give back to the community of African American student athletes so the present athletes can understand the root of the tree.

If you don’t understand the root of the tree, how do you know the tree? The University of Minnesota needs to bring back former African American student-athletes not just for one day during Black History Month, but to continually educate current student-athletes on the African American student-athletes who gave their lives and their blood to this great institution.