Whitley's Believe It Or Not: Football aside, Thrasher was a winner for FSU

David Whitley
Gator Sports

Before we ponder how soon the Tampa Bay Rays will move to Gainesville, a farewell pat on the back is due FSU President John Thrasher.

Sure, the Seminoles’ football program went from world-beater to dumpster fire during his seven years in office. Florida fans and Willie Taggart are the only people who’d give Thrasher a pat on the back for some of his football decisions.

But if you put that sport aside (impossible, but humor me), Thrasher gets kudos for academic, athletic and fundraising upgrades. He also balanced the social issues that has roiled campuses.

Thrasher addressed racial inequities, but he realized every historical figure should be treated like Nathan Bedford Forrest. Last week, Thrasher endorsed a task force recommendation not to remove former FSU President Doak Campbell’s name from the football stadium.

Campbell was a seminal figure in FSU history, but the big complaint was he supported segregationist policies. Thrasher realized that context matters, though it is usually the first casualty in these hot-button debates.

When Florida banned the "Gator Bait" chant last year, UF President Ken Fuchs said there was no evidence it had any racial association. But the original slave-era meaning referred to Black babies being used as alligator bait. That connotation makes it unacceptable for 90,000 to yell in 2021.

Similarly, the FSU task force found no evidence of Campbell being racist. But the U.S. military was separated by race through World War II. Segregation laws were on the books through the mid-1960s.

That’s nothing to be proud of. But if everyone who supported segregationist polices were canceled, we’d have to expunge the names of just about every public figure before 1960.

Thrasher will leave a fitting name on the football stadium. More importantly, he’ll leave FSU in much better shape than he found it. Well, except for that one thing . ...

About the Gainesville Rays, I joked last week that if UF fans start filling Florida Ballpark, Tampa Bay’s team should move here. Now I’m starting to think we should make it a real campaign.

The Rays have baseball’s best record and are No. 27 in attendance, averaging 6,026 a game. COVID-19 restrictions skew the standings, but the Rays allow 20,000 a game and averaged only 8,179 during their three-game sweep of Baltimore over the weekend.

The Rays have long wanted a new stadium and are considering eventually playing half their games in Montreal. They should run with that idea, but play the Florida half in Gainesville’s new stadium. I guarantee the attendance would be better here than at Tropicana Field. ...

Stud of the Week – Florida sprinter Joseph Fahnbulleh for winning the NCAA 200-meter title and running the sixth-fastest time (19.91 seconds) in the world this year. For context, that’s even less time than it takes Tampa Bay to count all the fans at a typical home game.

Dud of the Week – Lloyd.

Please indulge my pet-peeve rant. I was at a local eatery and an unidentified male — I’ll call him Lloyd after Jim Carrey’s character in “Dumb and Dumber” — used the bathroom stall and walked straight out the door.

I’m no germaphobe, but sheesh. After all the COVID craziness, how is it some people are still oblivious to the simple act known as “washing your hands”? ...

Speaking of which, NBC has a post-Olympic show in the works known as “Ultimate Slip’ N Slide,” where people compete on giant water slides. Production was shut down last week when 40 crew members came down with “explosive diarrhea.”

Combine that with the slides, and that is one event we can all pray the International Olympic Committee never designates as a sport. ...

Sign of the Apocalypse: Celebrity boxing continues to grow. The latest was ex-NBA player/Kardashian husband Lamar Odom pummeling ex-whatever Aaron Carter last Friday night.

Please, somebody stop the insanity before we get a Johnny Manziel vs. Matt Gaetz pay-per-view. ...             

U.S. Open Preview — If Phil Mickelson isn’t in contention this weekend, the USGA and NBC have scheduled a Brooks Koepka vs. Bryson DeChambeau boxing match for Sunday afternoon. ...

The College Sports Information Directors of America inducted ex-Gator gymnast Ann Woods Smith into its All-America Hall of Fame last week. After getting a public relations degree in 1982, she worked in Florida’s SID office for a couple of years.

In her acceptance speech, Smith recalled being in the office after a meet and blurting, “It really stinks whiting out your own records. And with that, a sportswriter from the Gainesville Sun popped his head into the office and said, ‘That’s going into print.’”

Four decades later, it’s back in print. ...

FSU President Redux: Ex-governor Jeb Bush told the Orlando Sentinel that, “Thrasher’s only fault has been the once mighty FSU football team. However, they play mighty fine basketball.”

True, but Seminole fans would probably trade 25 Final Fours for one functioning time machine that would bring back a 40-year-old Bobby Bowden. ...

Ann Woods Smith Update for Millennials and Younger: “Whiting out” meant dabbing white “liquid paper” over typewritten words that needed to be changed. Then we’d hunt and gather woolly mammoths to take back to our caves for dinner. ...

ESPN reported at least 40 executives came down with “explosive diarrhea after the Lakers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs. ...

Liquid paper was invented by the mother of Michael Nesmith of The Monkees. Ann Woods Smith Update for Millennials and Younger: He was not an actual primate. ...

That’s all the space we have for this week’s Whitley’s Believe It or Not. If you run into someone like Lloyd in the next week, feel free to beat him like a rented celebrity. Just be sure to wash your hands afterward.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley