- Senior college football writer
- Author of seven books on college football
- Graduate of the University of Georgia
The faculty of the University of Kentucky’s African-American and Africana Studies program has asked UK president Eli Capilouto to change the name of Rupp Arena because the legendary basketball coach’s name “has come to stand for racism and exclusion” and “alienates Black students, fans, and attendees.”
In a letter to Capilouto on Thursday, the African-American and Africana Studies (AAAS) program faculty outlined additional steps it wanted Kentucky to take to eradicate racism on campus.
In addition to removing Rupp’s name from the downtown UK basketball arena, the faculty requested that names of “enslavers, Confederate sympathizers, and other white supremacists” be removed from campus buildings as well.
“The Adolph Rupp name has come to stand for racism and exclusion in UK athletics and alienates Black students, fans, and attendees,” the AAAS faculty wrote in the letter. “The rebuilding of the arena and the convention center offer an opportunity to change the name to a far more inclusive one, such as Wildcat Arena.”
A UK athletics department spokesman didn’t immediately respond to ESPN’s request for comment.
The arena, which is now called Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center after a naming rights deal, is undergoing a $275-million renovation. The project is expected to be completed in time for the 2021-22 season.
Rupp, who died in 1977 at the age of 76, coached the Wildcats for 41 seasons from 1930 to 1972. His teams won 82.2 percent of their games, and he ranks sixth in NCAA Division I history with 876 victories. Rupp guided UK to four NCAA national championships and 27 SEC regular-season titles. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969.
In 1966, Rupp’s all-white UK team lost 72-65 to an all-Black starting five from Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) in the championship game of the NCAA tournament. Three years later, Rupp signed his first African-American player-7-foot-2 center Tom Payne from Louisville, Kentucky.
Rupp Arena opened in the fall of 1976 and was built by the city of Lexington, Kentucky. The arena is part of the $53 million Lexington Center complex, which also includes a conventional-exhibition hall, enclosed shopping mall and a hotel.
In January, when the naming rights deal was announced, Wildcats athletics director Mitch Barnhart said, “”It has to be Rupp Arena. When you’re recruiting, when you’re having teams come in here to play and people come in here, this is Rupp Arena. It’s set apart from all other places. … This one’s been this way for almost 50 years, and it can’t change.”
Since Rupp Arena opened for the 1976-77 season, the Wildcats have ranked either first or second in average attendance in Division I each season.
Among other changes, the AAAS faculty asked that the entire University be required to take a course on race and inequality, increase Black representation and increase support for Black students.
“We recognize that the University has already announced a set of steps to enhance diversity,” AAAS faculty wrote in the letter. “We propose another series of actions that focus on deeper, structural change. These actions will alter the institutional realities concerning racism on our campus and move us toward racial equity-not just diversity and inclusion-in our community.
“These actions will demonstrate that Black lives truly do matter at the University of Kentucky.”
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