Officials shoot down claim that UC buffaloes black athletes

The University of Colorado at Boulder athletic department is battling a growing story that black football players may have called their athletic training center “the plantation” in recent years.

CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano told the university system’s board of regents a story Wednesday recently related to him by a black athletic department employee, Boulder’s Daily Camera reports.

The staff member told DiStefano that “even though the black football players and men’s basketball players are getting a free education and a free ride, everything they do pays for the young white female playing tennis or on the golf team or track and field.”

DiStefano said that players recently believed they were part of a plantation system—even calling the Dal Ward Athletic Center “The Plantation”—and were upset that “their sweat and tears are really for other people, not for them.”

A Daily Camera reporter present at the board of regents meeting tweeted out DiStefano’s story, Colorado’s 9News reports, and Colorado news outlets began reporting the story and seeking comment from school officials.

When asked for comment, an athletic department spokesperson said the plantation comment was five to 10 years old and has been blown out of proportion.

As news spread that black student athletes at CU-Boulder felt they were being used, athletic department officials strongly refuted the idea. Rick George, the university athletic director, also told CU-Boulder fan site Buff Zone that the plantation comment was old news.

“I had not heard that before, and immediately when I heard that, I talked to my staff and talked to our team and talked to the staff member that those comments came from,” George said. “These were comments that were made by a couple of players three or more years ago.”

CU-Boulder Buffaloes football players said no one on the current team thought of their program as a plantation complex.

“I’ve never heard it until it was brought to my attention (Wednesday),” senior Chidobe Awuzie, who is black, told Buff Zone. “I hang out with all the black people on the team and white people on the team and I’ve never, ever heard that.”

DiStefano said the story had been troubling him recently.

“It’s one of the reasons our black athletes don’t come back to campus,” he said. “Whether we agree, disagree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, it’s how they feel. To me, in all my years, it’s the first time I’d heard that. And it just sticks with me, and I’m thinking, ‘We gotta change something.’”

Records obtained by ABC 7 show that football and men’s basketball are the only profitable sports teams at CU-Boulder. During the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the football program made $11,274,066 in profits, and the men’s basketball program made $383,344.

Women’s basketball, volleyball, soccer, and track & field, as well as the men’s track & field team, each lost over $1 million during the year. As a whole though, the CU-Boulder athletics program record a $2.58 million profit in the 2014-2015 year.

A recent expansion and renovation project to the athletic facilities at CU-Boulder cost over $150 million, though the school’s athletic department was reportedly responsible for the full cost.

DiStefano said he had been meeting with students and staff to better understand a 2014 campus climate survey that said up to 48 percent of African-American students felt undervalued. According to the survey, less than two percent of the CU-Boulder undergraduate student population is black or African-American.

Awuzie shared that he enjoyed Boulder, which embraces diversity, even if it is mostly white.

“It’s just a different culture that you get used to,” Awuzie stated. “It’s not that there is racism or anything. We know [Boulder] is a predominately white town, and they’ve accepted us with open arms. We have fun there; we have a lot of friends of different colors. It’s a very diversity-inclusive place, so I really like it there.”

George said a diversity and inclusion plan for the university will roll out by the end of the summer.

“We talk to our student athletes about that all the time,” George said. “We engage in conversation about those subjects because we do want to make sure that all of our students and student athletes have a great experience.”

DiStefano released a statement the day after he told the plantation story, calling on the CU-Boulder community to “keep these conversations happening.”

“I shared this story at yesterday’s meeting not because I want to make people uncomfortable,” the chancellor wrote. “I brought it up because we need to bring awareness to these feelings and take these issues head-on. It is important that these previously unspoken feelings be brought forward so that we can truly advance our campus to the inclusive environment we all aspire to create.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RiersonNC