While the Cal State Northridge football team played in front of its fans for the first time this season, a few former players carried signs implicating Coach Bob Burt as an overseer and a pimp.
“That made us look bad,” said wide receiver Saadite Green, an African-American. “That is saying we are slaves and hookers.”
The signs, carried by members of the Black Student Athletes Assn. on Saturday night at North Campus Stadium, protested the lack of financial support for Northridge student-athletes. Several of the football players said the protest took the spotlight away from their 39-0 win over Sonoma State.
Two other players, African-American safety Gerald Ponder and African-American cornerback Vincent Johnson, were in the unique position of supporting the protest while playing in the game.
“I was in the game, but at the same time I was part of the organization (BSAA), not physically, but spiritually,” said Ponder, the second vice president of the BSAA. “If some positive things come out of it, I think it is all good.”
When asked if the signs are true, that his coach is a pimp and a slave master, Ponder said: “I never really thought specifically about each sign, but I’ll say there’s truth in each sign. You gotta look at the big picture.
“The signs are symbolic. There’s a certain amount of exploitation of athletes. I say, yes, there is racism within the athletic program and you look at the university as a whole and there is racism, and on a bigger scale there is racism in the U.S. So what do you do? Do you leave (the team) or do you stay?”
Ponder said he stayed because although he feels he is being exploited, he also feels he’s getting something out of football.
“It helps me out with tuition and books, what little I get,” he said. “And, of course, I do have an affection for it.”
Ponder said his teammates have not distanced themselves from him--at least to his face--because the issues--food, housing and improving graduation rates--they all can relate to. Burt refused comment.
Other than Ponder, the CSUN players contacted by The Times did not support the protest, but they did support the BSAA’s right to its views.
“I feel they have a legitimate complaint for the most part, but the way they went about it dogged the players,” said defensive back Joe Vaughn, an African-American. “It is the same at ‘SC, Notre Dame and Miami, at all colleges across the country. Unless their parents are well off, college students are going to struggle.”
State budget cuts that have caused the university to lay off teachers and cancel classes have restricted the football program to 17 athletic scholarships, which Burt divides among approximately 50 players. Those who are eligible supplement the scholarships with federal financial aid.
“We don’t have to be here,” said linebacker Angel Chavez, a Latino. “We don’t have any money in this program. You know that when you’re coming in.”
Edvin Babayova, a white offensive lineman, said that the signs were distracting and degrading.
“I love what I’m doing and I’m proud to be out there,” he said. “I support their right to protest, but they should have done it in a different way. It took away from a great game. Sure, you’re supposed to concentrate and you tell yourself that, but how can you when they’re right behind the bench?”
“You can’t say (Burt’s) a pimp. Classes are being canceled left and right, teachers are being laid off. Where is the money going to come from?”
Punter Albert Razo was angered by the signs about Burt.
“I support Coach Burt all the way,” he said. “He’s been dealing with racist issues for years and he’s never showed disrespect toward me and I’m a so-called minority.”
O.J. Ojomoh, a linebacker from the Virgin Islands, believes that the racial overtones of the signs and the references to Burt as a pimp inflame emotions that could lead to more than the fight in the stands that broke out between a fan and a protester.
“If someone starts shooting it could get out of hand,” Ojomoh said. “I don’t want my family and friends hurt out there. This is a free world, you can protest, but do it in the correct manner.”
Defensive tackle Oscar Wilson, an African-American, ignored the protest.
“I’m here to go to school and play football,” he said.
Tailback Robert Trice, an African-American who set a single-game rushing record in the victory, had a similar reaction.
“I’m doing what I want to do,” he said. “I want to play. If that’s how they see it they have a right to their opinion.”
Ponder and other BSAA members met with President Blenda J. Wilson Monday to discuss implementing a meal plan for student-athletes.
If Wilson approves such a plan, finding funding will be difficult. NCAA rules also affect the plan. The NCAA limits meals for athletes to one per day and athletes with full scholarship/financial aid packages are prohibited from accepting meals.