UF announces it will no longer perform Gator Bait cheer because of its ‘horrific historic racist imagery’

13
12264
Florida Gators fans cheer during the game against Vanderbilt at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Nov. 9, 2019. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

The University of Florida will no longer use the “Gator Bait” cheer at sporting events, President Kent Fuchs announced Thursday, citing the racist imagery associated with the phrase as the primary reason behind the decision. 

“While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our “Gator Bait” cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” Fuchs wrote in a UF statement titled “Another Step Toward Positive Change Against Racism. “Accordingly University Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer.” 

The cheer typically follows a brief intro from the UF band, followed by fans chomping twice with their right arm over their left arm followed by a “Gator Bait” cheer. It’s unclear if fans will still be permitted to do the chomp, which became popular following the release of the movie ‘Jaws’ before becoming an official tradition during the 1981 season, following Florida’s decision.

Furthermore, Fuchs said Florida will take steps “removing any monuments or namings that UF can control that celebrate the Confederacy or its leaders.” 

With the country in the midst of nationwide protests regarding the intertwining of police brutality and racism, UF is just the latest establishment to re-evaluate and reflect on behavior previously given a pass. 

The representation of black children as “alligator bait” was perpetuated in motion pictures and popular song, such as the not-so-sweet lullaby “Mammy’s Little Alligator Bait,” composed by Henry Wise and Sidney Perrin in 1899, according to the Library of Congress.

Historical evidence on the subject, however, has been mixed until recently; a 2014 article in the Miami New Times concluded “during slavery and into the 20th Century, black babies were used as alligator bait in North and Central Florida.” Time magazine in 1923 reported the practice of using black children as “alligator bait” had taken place in Chipley, Florida – the town refuted this claim, calling it “a silly lie, false and absurd.”

For fans of Florida’s athletic programs, the chant has taken on a life of its own; from numerous publications, to Gator great Lawrence Wright leading the cheer “If you ain’t a Gator, you must be Gator bait!” during a large celebration at Florida Field following Florida’s 1996 national championship, the cheer has become Florida’s version of “Roll Tide”.

“I’m not going for it,” Wright told The Gainesville Sun. “I created something for us. It’s a college football thing. It’s not a racist thing, It’s about us, the Gator Nation. And I’m black.

“What about our history as the Gator Nation? We took a program from the top five to No. 1 in the country. I think I’ve done enough, put in the sweat and tears, to get to offer my opinion about something like this.”

Former Florida player and coach Steve Spurrier understands Fuchs’ decision.

“It kind of surprised me, but I didn’t know there was anything racial about it,” Spurrier said. “But when (Athletic Director) Scott Stricklin told me about some of the history of it, I said, ‘Let’s get rid if it.’ “

As for the publication, it still exists today and recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

David Stirt founded Gator Bait Magazine in 1980, two years after moving to Gainesville from Stowe, Vermont, for graduate school. A Gainesville native to this day, Stirt attended Florida’s 22-21 loss to Miami on Dec. 1, 1978, where he witnessed UF fans chanting “Gator bait!” repeatedly in the direction of the the ‘Canes sideline.

“To me, the meaning was absolutely clear-cut when I saw those players running out of the tunnel, and the fans were just going nuts with this Gator Bait chant, that ‘hey, these Gator players are just going to tear apart this other team today’,” Stirt told The Gainesville Sun. “It had no other connotation whatsoever, that was the one and only connotation I ever had for that saying.”

While working as a reporter the following year, Stirt began to plan out the creation of his new publication. With the help of an Ocala-based printing press, Carlson Color Graphics, Stirt was able to produce 25,000 sample copies, which eventually led to 500 charter subscribers by the time the first issue was ready to roll out in Aug. 1980.

Until Thursday’s announcement, Stirt was unaware of the controversy, too.

“I only know why I used the name, and if you’re asking me, had I known things 40 years ago that I know today, would it have been different? Probably. I have no way of knowing,” Stirt said. “But without the historical context back in 1980, I just considered it a fantastic cheer, and that’s why I picked it up and used it as a name.”

Following Florida’s announcement, fans and media began reacting divisively on social media.

 

A petition to keep the cheer had nearly reached its goal hours after Fuchs’ decision.


Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley contributed to this report.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Take any person, place, thing or idea older than a generation, pull the threads and you can find something about it that offends some group–small or large–of people. This from the “capstone” university in Florida. If you think hard enough, you can make an argument, as long as you don’t listen to anyone else that the American Alligator “Gator” is racist. Let’s go all the way–introducing the Florida Paint Brushes! The lunacy continues.😎

  2. I’m 66 years old and my father who graduated from UF with a law degree in 1936 was the first of many in my family to attend UF. Over the 84 years of our family’s association with the school and the 150 years of our living in this state this is the first I’ve ever heard of the phrase being subscribed to racism. This is the ultimate example of political correctness overruling common sense. You can rest assured I will continue the chomp
    and would suggest that from now on at the end of We Are the Boys From Ole Florida we punctuate it with “Chomp Chomp Gator Bait”
    While doing the chomp with our hands!

  3. It’s a sad day to be a Florida Gator! As much as I despise Snopes, they have dismissed that any of the rumors & folklore are true. They even discounted the stories written back in the days were just that, stories and rumors. Could it have happened, it is possible, but there is more proof of Bigfoot and Nessie than this Gatorbait folklore. Just note, even if proven to be true, that NONE of this subject is racist with the Florida Gators and Lawrence Wright said it best. “I created something for us. It’s a college football thing. It’s not a racist thing, It’s about us, the Gator Nation. And I’m black.

    If they take away this one, then Rocky Top needs to go away with their “Convict Labor” history. Also, I am sure that the FSU war chant can be proven offensive with some movement.

    Regardless, GOOOOO GATORS!

    • So I am not sure why you would despise Snopes, one of the BEST sites on the internet. When I hear of one of those Fox News stories, I always send my friends to Snopes and they always come back shaking their head wondering why they believed.

      https://www.snopes.com/news/2017/06/09/black-children-alligator-bait/

      While the actual use of African-American children as alligator bait is most likely false or at least hotly debated, the imagery is out there and WAS used in the early 20th Century. I am guessing in a similar fashion as civil war memorials in the South, just another way to try to intimidate Blacks. For sure Fuchs should have had more of a conversation. I think the trope was news to most of us and was most certainly not what was intended. While I lament the loss of maybe one of my favorite cheers, I’m educated and progressive and will adjust.

      Go Gators!

      • I’m concerned when I hear someone singing the praises of Snopes with such fervor, but then again you identified yourself as “progressive” so with that tip of the hat to one of the most blatant racists of the 20th Century, Margaret Sanger, I suppose it makes sense.

        San Jose State just got their turn at the virtue podium and dropped their Spartan sign. Some vague reference to an obscure white supremacy hand signal that about a dozen people in the entire country knew about. But by the eternal, if a public institution in California can raise the ante as quickly as that and out do a fine Southern (oops, it it still OK to say that?) university like UF…….then we can certainly find a stretch to link the name “Gators” even more solidly to racism and drop the term like a bad habit!

        So I’ve done some thinking and come up with the perfect team name to avoid any hint of institutional racism when the University of Florida football team takes the field. The Mullets! The UF Fighting Mullets! It’s not offensive, it’s about as progressively peaceful as you can ask for, and we can all feel good about ourselves!

        You can thank me later.

  4. I certainly have not heard of any racist connection to this simple cheer that no doubt was designed to intimidate the opposing team by letting them know that they are going up against the mighty Gators. I suppose now, that Tennessee will have to stop singing Rocky Top, a drinking song, because it may offend recovering alcoholics. We will have to invent a new cheer no doubt.

  5. I would love to see the football team make a joint statement that reads something like this: We stand together against any kind of racism in any form, but see nothing of the kind in our gator-bait or gator chomp cheers. This is a unifying force for our team and school, and is not something that divides us in any way.” Let’s use common sense and not get carried away by searching for a negative connotation to something that in no way reflects poorly on race relations.

  6. So I hate to be the one to bring this up, and perhaps I will get banned for it but …

    Does the lady on the right not bear a striking resemblance to Dan Mullen? I mean I’m not trying to be ugly or nuthin’ but imma’ tell you I have clicked on this article a few times and until just now I for sure thought it was coach. Just sayin’.

  7. Hey y’all here’s an idea: Let’s take a cue from the 1st Cav Division, but we’ll change it to, “IF YOU AIN’T A GATOR, THEN YOU AIN’T SHYT!”.

    No, on second thought that won’t work either……since the reverse has to be true also, ie, “If you are a Gator, then you ARE shyt”? Naw, that’ll never do, it would only be a matter of time before FSU caught on and started coming back with that.

    Speaking of FSU, at least their stadium is actually named after a guy with a pretty racist background. I hate to give them props, but they actually do have a reason to change the name of it!