Black athletes and St. Cloud: Are they compatible?


According to several St. Cloud State University (SCSU) Black student-athletes, they feel isolated on and off campus and singled out if anything wrong occurs. Because they would only speak with us on condition of anonymity from fear of possible retaliation, we have assigned them fictional names in this story.

Second in a series. Next in the series, we talk with SCSU student-athletes who have had or are having more positive experiences in St. Cloud.

“I’ve seen it plenty of times,” SCSU student-athlete Arthur told us. “When a Black athlete walks into a party, it is all eyes on him. If anything gets stolen, it must have been him, whereas a White athlete blends in way more easily.”

SCSU student-athlete Carl added, “I have witnessed where the police in St. Cloud have treated Black student [-athletes] or Black individuals differently just for the fact [of skin color]. They do have the stereotype that minorities are guilty right away, so they approach them as if they are guilty instead of getting the full story or understanding what happened or occurred.”

Carl said he doesn’t drink, and “I rarely go out just because of that aspect of people getting into trouble. If you walk around St. Cloud at the wrong times, they [Whites] say the wrong thing because they are drunk and they think they can get away with it. Downtown St. Cloud is mostly drinking and just sitting around. For me, that isn’t fun at all.”

There is virtually nowhere in St. Cloud that Blacks can go where they can feel comfortable and enjoy themselves, said SCSU student-athlete Barry, also a football player. “When we go into town, people know that we are football players,” he pointed out.

As Barry recalled a recent episode, he felt this isn’t a problem just for Black athletes, but for Blacks in general: “There were about six Black people [in downtown St. Cloud], and they all knew each other and were just having a disagreement. Nobody was fighting. [Then] six squad cars pulled up and put several [of them] in handcuffs. There was very little questioning going on.”

Carl said, “The farther you get into town, there seems like there are more people looking at you. I don’t know if it is an assumption that if he is a football player let’s watch what he does, or if it is just another Black person trying to do something. It’s hard to tell.”

As SCSU football players, these Black student-athletes believe that they are not always treated fairly on campus, either.

“It seems that you have to put in more effort than the average [White] person on the team,” Arthur believes. “I felt many times that I had to put in more effort just to be congratulated. But when I see another teammate on my team get praised every day, and I don’t see them [out-working] me…

“It is not envy or jealousy,” Arthur continued. “It is reality. I would like to hear ‘good job’ once in a while. I have to be three times better than them at practice to actually get some playing time.”

Arthur, who transferred from the University of Minnesota, said he and other Black players are bothered by the fact that there are no Blacks on the coaching staff. “All the African American players that I am around, they don’t go to the coaches,” he admitted.

“They are supposed to be like father figures, [but] to this day, I don’t feel that there is one coach that I could just go to [about] some personal stuff or talk to because they haven’t built that type of bond with me.” Arthur added that SCSU coaches don’t actively recruit inner-city student-athletes or know how to deal with them if they do bring them to campus.

The coaching staff “doesn’t believe in the ability that we have,” said Carl. “They don’t feel confident that we can play.” He noted that this past season there was a Black volunteer coach on staff. “They brought in what [coaches] say was a volunteer assistant guy who works in admissions, but you can tell it wasn’t a legitimate [hiring]. It seems like they were just trying to have a token person on the team rather than bringing someone who could actually coach the players.”

“You expect the coach to be that backbone for you, to help you out,” added Arthur. “They just know I am on the team. I’m a student-athlete and meet their requirements: Get good grades, don’t get in trouble, and stay on the team. They don’t know what my life story is or seem to give an effort to try to know who I am.”

During a December 18 interview at the MSR, we asked SCSU President Earl Potter if he was aware of how some Black players are currently feeling on campus. “There are a number of students of color on the [football] team, and some of them have good relationships with the coaches, and some did not,” Potter noted. “Some thought they were treated fairly and others didn’t.”

However, Potter added, “Overall I am concerned about the composition of our coaching staff. I am [also] concerned about the number of student-athletes of color that we have. We have 20 students of color on the football team. I don’t think [student-athletes of color] are distributed across all sports in a way that would suggest every sport is open and accessible.”

Nonetheless, feeling isolated and unfairly targeted remains a reality for many SCSU Black student-athletes, including their belief that they are profiled by campus security officers. We spoke with Ferman Woodberry, who was SCSU security coordinator from 1998-2003. He said that after he left (based on what he observed when he returned in another capacity from 2007-08), “The atmosphere of public safety has changed [for the worse].”

Ferman said that Black students’ belief that they are targeted by security officers is genuine. “Listening to [Black] students, that was a valid perception. I think that their concerns are justified.”

Is it any different for Black females at SCSU? Many Black female students living on campus “feel uncomfortable and unwelcome,” sophomore Danielle Bennett told the MSR last fall. “When they go into the restrooms and are doing their hair, they get funny looks or the bathroom clears out all of a sudden.” Junior Queania Bream agreed: “It’s really, really bad,” she said of the racial atmosphere, indicating she planned to transfer to another school.

If they could have a do-over, some student-athletes say they would attend another college or university. Barry, when asked if he would recommend that other Blacks attend SCSU, simply said, “No.”

“If I could do this all over again,” said Carl, “I’d personally probably choose somewhere else, because I don’t feel that I am getting a fair shake.”

Tanner update

In last week’s MSR, we reported that SCSU student Douglas Tanner was scheduled to appear in court on first-degree assault charges. In his January 8, appearance, Tanner told the judge in Sterns County District Court in St. Cloud that he is not guilty of attacking a White male in July 2007.

“Before July 4, 2007, I was a law-abiding citizen,” Tanner stated. “Now I’m day-to-day. I can’t leave the state, can’t go see my family [back in Kentucky], and I don’t have a job. I just want to get back to my life.”

The judge has taken Tanner’s request to withdraw his guilty plea “under advisement.” No further hearing date has been set at this time.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-re