Calipari on Potential Rupp Arena Name Change, Team Protests


In a media zoom call scheduled specifically for a discussion on the hiring of Bruiser Flint as a new Assistant Coach, John Calipari covered a vast array of topics. The University of Kentucky head coach was asked about:

COVID-19, the chances of having a season amidst it, backlash for his tweet about getting getting his team registered to vote, the on-campus conversation about potentially re-naming Rupp Arena, former UK Associate Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy taking the A.D. job at DePaul, a potential series with the Blue Demons) and what his thoughts would be if his players wanted to stage a protest against social injustice.

We’ll start with the topic of Rupp Arena, as a recent letter to university president Eli Capilouto, from some members of the school’s African American and Africana Studies department asked for Rupp Arena’s name to be changed because it represents “racism and exclusion.”

Adolph Rupp is the legendary UK coach who used an all-white starting five in a loss to Texas Western, who played an all-black starting five for the first time in college basketball history, in the 1966 national title game. The sports milestone was depicted by the 2006 Disney movie “Glory Road,” in which Rupp is the villain, portrayed by Jon Voight.

Calipari said that he’s hearing everyone out on this topic, but he also suggested that he hasn’t seen anything that would change his perception of Rupp.

“Some people agree, some people are not going to agree,” he said. “For me personally, knowing the family … what’s out there that tells me it’s something different?”

The legacy of Rupp is a topic we wrote about 15 months ago in a column on the late Senator J. William Fulbright. You can make a fairly strong analogy between Fulbright and Rupp. Both are basically demigods in a specific southern state, but largely viewed with skepticism in the rest of the country.


Was Rupp racist? Absolutely. Was he especially racist for an elite white male in the mid-century South? No, and that’s very sad to say.

On the topic of social justice, Coach Cal said he admittedly has white privilege, and the advantages that come with it, despite having grown up working class. Calipari has been very active this summer in fighting for causes that uplift minorities. He formed the McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative, an endeavor that focuses on creating jobs for minority candidates within athletic departments.

“I’m white-privileged, even though I grew up the way I grew up,” Calipari continued on Wednesday afternoon.

“I was still white, which means I had an advantage. … I had one pair of tennis shoes. But that didn’t matter.”

“I ended [a recent team meeting] with, ‘I want to know — opinions, talks, speaking, showing — what action can you take as a group to make a difference in maybe one person’s life,'” he said.

“What can we do that you can do together, or individually, that we can make a difference with people?”

So it sounds like he’s open to the idea of his team holding demonstrations, if they want to. Regarding Calipari helping his team to vote, it’s been well-documented, nationally, the issues we’ve seen with voter suppression in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Yet he still encountered some backlash, even for something as critical to democracy as the simple task of voting. Calipari reiterated that he didn’t tell anyone who to vote for, and that the vote total for his initiative was only 12.

“I knew it would bring both (praise and criticism). But the whole point of it is to teach someone to vote.”

“Some people agree, some people are not going to agree,” he said. “For me personally, knowing the family … what’s out there that tells me it’s something different?”

We’ll have more quotes later, once the transcript is made available. In the meantime, here’s the link to the video of the media session today.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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