Don’t Justify Your College Fandom With Your Good Ole’ Boy Racism

Black head coaches often have to battle the opposition on the field and the racism within their own football family. 

Willie Taggart, an African-American head coach, who earned himself one of the coveted college gigs in the country, hasn’t had the best first year as leader of a Florida State program that is at least expected to finish Top 20 every year. Going 5-7 is unfamiliar territory for FSU faithful. 

People forget that legendary coach Bobby Bowden was 5-6 in his first season back in 1976 with the team, but unfortunately, the similarities stop there. Bowden would then go 299-91 in 33 seasons, build Florida State into a powerhouse and be forgiven for that one season blemish.  Taggart is openly receiving death threats and the season isn’t even done yet. 

The Florida State University fan who posted a racist message on Facebook about Taggart after the school was pounded by arch-rival Florida 41-14 on Saturday was fired from his job on Monday amid the public fallout.

The Facebook post included a meme depicting Taggart, who is the first black coach in the school’s history, being lynched, along with the words: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing your rep.” The unidentified poster initially stood by the post, and told a critical commenter, “I’m dead F—ing serious. This is how far I’m willing to go to get rid of this clown.”

Believe it or not, having covered Florida State-Florida football games back in the 90s and getting a first-hand look at the intense, historical rivalry between the two schools, I have seen some over-the-top reactions to losses. The rivalry between the two transcends football and extends to bitter battles on the job, between families and neighbors. So I understand the anger that the Hilton Grand Vacations employee felt when Florida State got destroyed in its biggest game of the year.

No Florida State graduate wants to face a Gators fan on Monday morning at the Jamba Juice stand after getting blown out by Florida. It’s like having to shake the hand of the guy who stole your girlfriend and got her pregnant. I get it.

Any Florida or Florida State coach knows that the health and longevity of his tenure is largely based on the success he has in the interstate rivalry game. If Taggart lost every game this season but defeated Florida on Saturday, all of this would have transpired differently. 

BUT… the manner in which the fan chose to display his unhappiness was misplaced. Anger about results on the field turned into a racial attack on Florida State’s African-American coach. 

It was an immediate black eye for the institution and ten steps backwards on the path of progress people of color have made in attaining head coaching and executive jobs in power conference colleges. 

It speaks to the institution of racism and bigotry that is still deeply entrenched in Southern culture and the way African-American men of every stature are viewed by the State of Florida, which has been traditionally oppressive to people of color.

Despite advances and progress by African-Americans in politics and business and science and medicine and technology and athletics, the racial element can’t be avoided. There’s always going to be a person or group of non-color that uses race as a weapon, even when it has nothing to do with the situation.

Criticize Taggart all you want. He deserves it. Florida State is used to a certain level of excellence and he failed to maintain that in his first season —  if you’re strictly looking at the win column and not his relationship with players or ability to lead young men. 

Former HC Jimbo Fisher, who departed in 2017 after finishing 5-6, didn’t leave Taggart with much to work with so it’s not a shocker that Taggart needs a few years to recruit his own players and rebuild the program. He’s already bagging blue chippers. 

However, FSU is one of the few programs in the country that hasn’t truly had a rebuild in almost 40 years and fans aren’t used to taking L’s.

That’s still no excuse for the vile and racially insensitive meme. White people often ask Blacks why we make everything about race. Look no further than what happened to Taggart. Here’s a successful coach in his first season who is representing Florida State Seminoles football. The university had faith that he was intelligent and experienced and proven enough to assume one of the coveted jobs in the country.

He should be respected enough by the student body, alumni and fan base, to be treated with some human decency. Unfortunately, one Florida State fan has now taken the spotlight off of Taggart’s deficiencies and placed a glaring, negative light on Florida State and the unfathomability that in 2018, a person’s racism can run so deep that they would publicly lynch one of their own.

Florida State president John Thrasher condemned the racist social media post involving Taggart on Sunday and said the Florida state attorney is investigating.

“I speak for the entire FSU community in expressing our disgust and extreme disappointment, and I am glad the state attorney is investigating. Coach Taggart has our full support and as true Seminoles know, he is a respected member of the FSU family.”

The struggle for African-Americans in this country is real. Being elite and accomplished in your career doesn’t insulate people of color from the racism that lurks within a large contingency Americans. Let’s hope that the non-bigots outnumber the bigots.

But let’s not be blind either. Somebody had to remind Taggart of what he’s up against and the multi-layered magnitude of his position. It took some idiot on a computer to put the relevance and importance of Taggart’s gig at FSU into perspective. The pressure that he has to coach under each game is unique to the Black experience.  

Bowden was able to build Florida State into a powerhouse because he was allowed to do his job without a cloud of bigotry hovering around him and waiting for him to fail.

Taggart’s task will be much harder because it’s clear that he’s fighting internal and external battles that men of color have had to endure for years in all aspects of sports. It’s hard to stay afloat when you are gaining water from both sides of the boat and only have one bucket. Taggart knows what it is, so now he has to win and implement a culture of acceptance.

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