As 'Gator Bait' gets canceled, let's keep things in perspective
As a Florida grad, I’ve done the “Gator Bait” cheer during dozens of games. On occasion, we’d shout “Gator Bait” at opposing fans before a big game. For the most part, it was in good fun. Sometimes, I was obnoxious. That’s college.
But “Gator Bait” was never racist.
I’d like to say that I was never in the presence of racist comments, but that’s not true. Like just about anyone, I’ve overheard comments ranging from outright racist to racially insensitive. But I can say that I’d never heard of “Gator Bait” being used in any sort of racial context. Until today, I was never aware of any sort of connection.
Was I a bit surprised to hear the news that “Gator Bait” was going away? Of course. The racial imagery that was cited as a reason to eliminate the cheer is nothing short of horrific, but I hadn’t heard or read about that before.
Yes, it’s possible that this cheer getting canceled is a bit of an overreach as our country and its institutions wrestle with a checkered history and the cultural moment occurring right now. When the news broke, I heard from many fellow Florida fans complaining about the cheer going away, and I’d be lying if part of me wasn’t bummed out by losing a cheer that I’ve long associated with being a fan of Florida football.
But in reality, considering the magnitude of the moment, this sort of thing was always going to happen. And maybe that’s OK.
Many things that need to be changed are obvious. Others worth addressing aren’t so obvious. In some cases, walking the line between empathy and practicality is not so simple, and I think reasonable people can agree that erring on the side of empathy is OK especially when we’re talking about a simple cheer at football games.
I’m not saying that this is the right move. I’m saying that I’m willing to accept it even if it’s not. There are frankly bigger things to get emotional about. And Florida football will survive.
From an administration standpoint, two things stand out to me.
First, athletic departments are likely to increasingly take preemptive strikes against anything that can be considered even remotely racist. As we’ve seen with recent events regarding outspoken players, any negative news related to racism will move powerful people and organizations to act quickly.
It’s been said that recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and anything that can negatively impact recruiting is going to get attention. A friend recently told me in perhaps a half-serious, half-joking manner that “recruiting can end racism.” He’s not wrong, but perhaps I’d modify the statement to say that “recruiting can end racism as well as some things that might not be racist.”
Secondly, this is a unique window in time to make such a move. Ending a cheer is pretty easy when you’re anticipating near-empty stadiums come football season.
When you add those things together, you can understand the move by the administration. And I’m sure that they considered that there will be plenty of fans upset by the move.
But again, let’s keep things in perspective.
Let’s be increasingly empathetic.
And let’s be thankful that Florida football will survive. Florida football will survive coronavirus and the loss of “Gator Bait.” I’m looking forward to kickoff.