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What’s the truth about Adolph Rupp? One former player says just watch Dick Gabriel’s documentary to find out

Mike Casey, left, was in the same recruiting class as Dan Issel and Mike Pratt for coach Adolph Rupp. (UK Athletics Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

As soon as new broke that the faculty of the University of Kentucky ‘s African American and Africana Studies program wanted to change the name of Rupp Arena because the name stood for “racism and exclusion” that “alienates” black students and fans you knew it not only was going to create national headlines but also create controversy with UK fans.

I tried reaching out to several former UK basketball players and some coaches for their thoughts on changing the name of Rupp Arena. None wanted to be quoted by name.

“If you defend coach Rupp, you are damned. If you don’t, you are damned,” one player who played for Rupp said. “All this is above my pay grade. That is something powers to be in the city have to decide. I would refer anybody to Dick Gabriel’s two-hour special on Rupp. It is pretty clear there. I would just say whether his name is on the arena or not, get the facts straight.”

That’s what WKYT-TV’s Dick Gabriel wanted to do in a 2005 documentary, “Adolph Rupp: Myth, Legend and Fact.” It provided a lot of information from how Rupp was coaching a high school team in Illinois when he was hired at UK and that team had a black player. He hired assistant coach Neil reed in 1960 to help recruit African-American players and Rupp once asked the UK president to leave the SEC so he could recruit black players. The documentary also went in depth on how Rupp tried his best to sign in-state black players Wesley Unseld and Butch Beard before both picked Louisville.

I was at the 2012 Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame induction when Jim Tucker of Paris Western High School was being inducted. He told me that Rupp wanted to recruit him in 1950 but was prevented from doing so by integration laws at the time. Tucker revealed how Rupp helped him a scholarship to Duquesne. He earned All-American honors and then played on a NBA championship team his rookie year.

“I spent an enormous amount of time with Coach (Rupp) from 1969 till he passed, and I can tell you from experience he was not a racist,” Kentucky fan John Ferguson said Thursday. “These people need to talk to the people that knew him and also do their research before making racial attacks on a great man.”

Another UK fan, Tai Doram, posted this on my Facebook page: “I knew his son and play junior high ball with his grandson. They were excellent individuals. Rupp was a product of his generation. I say leave Arena as Rupp and rename the facility to honor diversity.”

One coach who coached against Rupp said he “never said anything or gave me any signs” he was a racist.

“I heard the rumor but there are a lot of people in the SEC who should have their names removed from all records because none were recruiting black athletes at the time,” the coach said. “Rupp did recruit the second African-American player (Tom Payne) to play in the SEC.

“The people who should be chastised are the ones who put the rule (not to recruit blacks) in the first place. The times I was with him or talked to him there was never any indication to me (he was a racist). It’s not like we were close but I did talk to him a lot over the years.”

Racist rumors about Rupp has been around a long, long time. However, so has information from many that indicates the rumors were not true.

Everyone has their opinion — and should be entitled to that. I was more than a bit surprised that the three former players and two coaches I contacted Friday didn’t want to be quoted by name because the subject is so controversial today.

Obviously I don’t know what Rupp did or didn’t say or do 40, 50, 60 or 70 years ago. I do know what Tucker told me face to face about eight years ago when we were talking about his career and how grateful he was for what Rupp did for him.

Hopefully those asking for this change and those who will have to decide if there should be a change have a lot of verified information to help make the correct decision.

12 comments

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  1. One of my daughters holds a diploma from Henry Clay High School in Lexington.

    I have visited the Henry Clay home (Ashland) in Lexington, a place preserved and maintained for its historical significance.

    I have visited Henry Clay’s resting place in the Lexington Cemetery, and I recall a prominent statue of Henry Clay atop a tall pedestal, allowing the stone remembrance of a prominent member of Kentucky and American history pointing back toward his home place.

    Let’s get back to sports, folks, and our “healthy” arguments about the merits and demerits of Coach Calipari’s coaching and recruiting philosophies.

    Yet, my reading of our history is that Henry Clay owned slaves. I find one specific reference to his purchasing a young woman, Charlotte Dupuy, for $450. In 1829, Ms. Dupuy sued Mr. Clay in federal court for her freedom, a lawsuit Henry Clay viewed as “a ‘groundless writ’ that might result in the loss of his rightful property, Henry Clay showed little mercy in fighting the suit.” See https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-day-henry-clay-refused-to-compromise-153589853/

    Henry Clay owned 600 slaves!!!!!!

    Those who know me know that I don’t have a racist bone in my body. That is not the way I was raised. I have shown at least one family member (an in law) who expressed such views my door rather than allow the that person to speak in such ways in the midst of my children. The idea of slavery is abhorrent to me, as I believe it is the the overwhelming majority of all Americans. The progress that this country has made in these regards during the course of my 70+ years on this earth has been remarkable.

    Yes, these is more work in these areas that must be done. I am more than willing to do my part to help, as I have done throughout my adult life. However, to be sure, I am not advocating the destruction of “Ashland”, the renaming of a high school, or the destruction of the statue, much less the dishonoring of Henry Clay’s memory. However, it is not a great leap, given recent events throughout our nation, to see all of these things not just demanded, but implemented by cowardly politicians caving to such demands in the face of ruthless mobs.

    This old man’s heart breaks as I watch these things that have been happening.

    Adolph Rupp is simply the next historical figure getting the treatment. Henry Clay cannot be far behind.

  2. Devastates me that a group of uninformed people can make baseless accusations about someone without getting both sides of the spectrum. Things were clearly different during that time and Coach Rupp did what he could. He made UK what it is today and he earned that Arena being named after him. He’s a true legend and deserves our respect

  3. You realize when people can no longer express their thoughts, ideas, facts, and feelings without fear of retaliation, that the extremists from both sides of the political spectrum have this country reeling on its heels…refuse to take a stand for free speech and say hello to Nazi Germany, or Marxist Russia.

  4. Hope the best, it’s matter of time that God will be in control and the ones that is defying him will be wishing otherwise. Just hope we can straighten our ship before it sinks.

  5. A Marxist state is what the current group of anarchists advocate. They are not hiding their agenda.

  6. I agree Professor!!

  7. I was Rupp’s Student Manager from 1969-1972 he WAS NO RACIST a great Coach A family man loved his Grandchildren Top notch cattle breeder
    I will go to my grave defending him
    Rest In Peace

    1. I was a student from 1967 through 1972 🙂

      Great times to be at UK and love basketball.

  8. Its not a crime to white. We do not need to apologize for being white either. Its who we are and we should be proud of it! I am not advocating white supremacy, but white lives matter too and we should strive to be the best we can be. Being labeled a racist because I don’t wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and dare to speak up for those who are tired of all of this reverse discrimination will continue dominate the liberal news until more white people stand up for themselves.

    1. Your point is made. Just don’t want to see the same comment on every post. Thanks

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