University of Florida turns away from "gator bait" chant because of racist past

The chomp goes hand in hand with University of Florida sports. At least, it used to.

UF President Kent Fuchs said in a letter the "gator bait" chant won't be led by anyone in the athletic department or band.

"While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our 'Gator Bait' cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific racist imagery associated with the phrase," Fuchs wrote. “Accordingly, university athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer."

According to Ferris State University's Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, during the slavery and Jim Crow era of the United States, "African American babies being used as alligator bait really happened, and it happened to real people."

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UF professor of African American studies Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn is pleased the school is coupling this with a host of other changes to address racial injustice, including in campus police practices, in banning prison labor on agricultural sites and in pushing for accountability in hiring African American staff members.

"Cultural change is difficult, especially when you found pleasure in doing things that are culturally uncomfortable for some people and not for others," Dr. Hillard-Nunn said.

UF sports is one of many brands redoing their image to match the moment.

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Polls show since April, support for Black Lives Matter protests has gone from 42% to 52%. In January, about 50% agreed there was a great deal of discrimination against blacks; 60% do now.

San Jose State Marketing professor Matt Cabot says brands see value both socially and in their bottom lines in taking a stand.

"It used to be you could get away with making a good product, a good service, without having any kind of social impact," said Cabot. "Today consumers really are looking for companies that are doing good stuff."

UF learned that in the early 1970s, when it banned "Dixie" from being played after touchdowns.

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Professor Hilliard-Nunn points out in the 19th century, Alachua County was the site of slave plantations, in the 20th century, of lynchings, and in the 21st, where a white supremacist came to give a presentation.

"People are evaluating themselves," she said. "People have told me, I have never known about this. What can I do? How can I learn to be an anti-racist?"

Legendary Gators coach Steve Spurrier told USA Today he was surprised it had a racist connotation to it, but when he was told he said, "let's get rid of it."