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For the partied-out print version of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about Howard University’s new athletic director and the school’s historically touchy relationship with its athletes. Mostly, now that I think about it, I wrote about Howard’s history of failing to feed its jocks.
Good golly, it’s an odd history.
There have been at least two major campus strikes at Howard over the years incited by athletes who didn’t get enough food.
In 1936, for instance, the football team refused to show up for a home game against Virginia Union to protest the lack of breakfast that morning. The players said the lack of meals was nothing new, and that school officials were, well, serial offenders on that score.
Students then boycotted classes the following school week and marched with the team down Georgia Avenue shouting slogans about better meals and (“Food! Food! Food!” among them) and carrying signs saying things like “We Want Ham and Cabbage for the Team!”
All this activism was without irony: The kids really weren’t getting fed.
I’d love for an anthropologist or sociologist to look for a link between the 1936 players’ strike and march for breakfast rights, which became a national news story, and subsequent strikes and marches for civil rights. I could see a relationship. You’ve gotta have food in the belly to fuel the fire there.
Howard’s reputation for not feeding athletes made the news again in the early 1980s, when a star football player went to the Washington Post saying he had to play hungry because the school refused to put him on a meal plan. That complaint was written up by a young reporter named Michael Wilbon, who left the Post this week after three decades.
When the player was tossed out of school for making the complaints to the newspaper, Wilbon then produced a series of stories about the mistreatment of Howard athletes, with many of the complaints concerning poor feedings.
Wilbon’s stories helped lead to a large-scale boycott of the Howard athletic banquet by its athletes in 1981.
I enjoyed reading all the old stories about young folks’ activism on behalf of athletes. That stuff doesn’t happen anymore, does it? But perhaps the coolest nugget came when I saw that one of the guys behind the 1981 banquet boycott was Ewart Brown, who headed up a group of alumni in support of the push to get better food for the athletes.
Brown just resigned as premier of Bermuda. He’d been in trouble with his constituents for a couple years now, ever since it came out that he made a secret deal with the U.S. government to take in Uigher detainees who were released from Guantanamo.