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Name, image, and Blackness: UF library hosts a discussion on race and college football

Since the National Collegiate Athletic Association was founded in 1906, institutions have taken advantage of the skills of Black athletes.

Leonard N. Moore, the George Littlefield Professor of American History and a former vice president at the University of Texas at Austin, spoke Thursday at the University of Florida's Smathers Library on the racial dynamics of college football in the South in light of recent developments, including the transfer portal, NIL, conference realignment, anti-DEI legislation, and the 2023 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed affirmative action in college admissions.

“We have to make sure that big-time athletic programs give football programs; it feels as if we only value what’s below the neck,” Moore said. “And I want them to value intellect as well, and that we have something to bring to the academic enterprise.”

Moore said he founded the College Football Research Project to discover what college football looks like from a scholarly analytical perspective, especially in the South.

As it gathers pace, the initiative intends to support programming before home games and hold seminars on the historical and present context of college football, assembling a team of academics from throughout the nation.

“College football runs this university, and I want people to see that what you see on a Saturday afternoon is a whole lot more that goes into that,” Moore said. “You know white Southerners put football in front of race.”

Moore centered his presentation on the history of Black athletes at predominantly white universities. College football offers a special chance to unite people of all races because athletics and identity are overlapping, Moore said. He touched on specific key dates from back in the day that made a huge impact on college football.

Moore stated that he is personally interested in the idea of “identity foreclosure," which holds that African American recruits may have few opportunities once their football careers end. According to Moore, he also wonders if white athletes are affected by the prejudices that persist in the industry.

“Students need to understand that they are not pieces of meat to be used at the university and thrown out, they are individuals and that they need to be recognized for their importance,” Steven Noll, a UF history professor said. “I think the voice of athletes needs to be heard rather than the voices of coaches,” Noll said.

Of the recent developments, Name, Image, and Likeness have been the most active. Interestingly a few years prior, supporters of college football declared that they would never back a team that compensates its players.

Those same supporters, meanwhile, are now insisting that their preferred university pay whatever compensation is required to attract the top players.

“Remember that they are people if you cheer for them on the field, cheer for them when they are off the field. After hearing this quote in the presentation, I just thought that this was very humanizing,” freshman Natalia Rojas said. “Athletes are usually seen as things that people use to get profits, so having this perspective is very humanizing.”

Moore also shared his personal experiences with the sociocultural effects of college football on society.

He explained how he went to these recruiting businesses and he would notice that when talking to other parents, the sales pitch he and his wife got was often different from everybody else as they knew who he was from beforehand.

However, he explained to the audience that he knows how it feels when it comes to having a son going through the college football recruitment process.

He recalled when his son stepped onto a college football field and the first thing a coach asked was not how he was doing academically, but instead told his son to hold his hand up to see how big his hands were and whether he could catch a football or not.

“It’s important for students to understand how football is in the fabric of this university so it’s important for not only those who play the sport (but) for others as well as they need to understand more deeply about the implications and the biases of the football culture,” Anwesha Chattopadhyay, a UF graduate student, said.

Sofia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing