New Northwestern A.D. Derrick Gragg Helped Create Tulsa Legacy Game


Northwestern announced their new Athletic Director yesterday, Dr. Derrick Gragg, the NCAA’s senior vice president for inclusion, education and community engagement. The former Eastern Michigan and Tulsa AD assumes his new position on July 1.

Gragg has a long list of achievements, and his hire is very timely for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps of particular relevance and poignance is the fact that he helped conceptualize the Tulsa Legacy Game, designed to pay tribute to the survivors and descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, widely recognized as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history. The first Tulsa Legacy Game took place last year, and as May turned to June, the centennial of the Tulsa massacre was observed.

Numerous documentaries on the Tulsa massacre aired, including the must watch “Tulsa Burning” on the History Channel, and “Dreamland” on CNN.

Known at the time as “Black Wall Street,” the Greenwood District of Tulsa was a thriving and bustling all-African American business district in the late 1910s and early 1920s. All 40 square blocks of it were burned to the ground by a white supremacist mob, aided by the city, the local sheriff and the local police. Although the body count is unoffficial, as many as 300 black men, women and children are believed to have perished.

As an added affront to this historical tragedy, The entire incident and aftermath has gone omitted from U.S. History curricula. The white people who perpetrated a mass killing, in which they literally flew airplanes and dropped bombs from them, refused to take responsibility for what happened, or show any remorse for it. The Black survivors, who lived through it, were too scared to speak up.

So you can see how and why this got swept under the rug. On the same day that Gragg was announced as the new Athletic Director, living legend Tom Hanks penned a guest op-ed for the New York Times.

Here’s an excerpt:

Should our schools now teach the truth about Tulsa? Yes, and they should also stop the battle to whitewash curriculums to avoid discomfort for students. America’s history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people. 1921 is the truth, a portal to our shared, paradoxical history. An American Black Wall Street was not allowed to exist, was burned to ashes; more than 20 years later, World War II was won despite institutionalized racial segregation; more than 20 years after that, the Apollo missions put 12 men on the moon while others were struggling to vote, and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers showed the extent of our elected officials’ willingness to systemically lie to us.

Adding further insult to injury, the city employed racially driven fire codes to prevent Greenwood’s rebuilding. Later they deliberately planned the interstate highway to run straight through it, thereby cutting the district off from the rest of the city, and ensuring it could never be rebuilt.

It’s only 2 whole blocks today, take a look:

Gragg is someone who obviously understands just how important the events of exactly 100 years ago are today, and he’s a home run hire for Northwestern. Especially so at this current point of time and space. He’s also the perfect move after what just happened with NU and the Mike Poliskey debacle.

“Derrick Gragg is an extremely talented, professional and visionary leader who operates with passion and integrity,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren.

“Derrick will lead the Northwestern University athletic department in a collaborative manner that will properly focus on the well-being of all Northwestern student-athletes. Derrick understands the critical components of what is required to embrace and empower student-athletes, coaches, administrators and the entire Northwestern community.”

Northwestern linguistics professor Robert Gundlach will continue to serve as interim athletic director until July 1.

“I am thrilled and humbled to join the Northwestern University family at this pivotal moment in college athletics,” Gragg said. “My career has been shaped by an unwavering belief in the potential of student-athletes to excel in all areas. These young people need more support than ever in the midst of challenging, changing and exciting times.

“I look forward to joining an incredible roster of coaches and staff in Evanston on this collaborative mission to help our Wildcats achieve at the highest level as students, as athletes and as people.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, 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,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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