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Friday, May 24, 2024

Column: UF athletic department should follow Luke Del Rio’s lead and condemn Richard Spencer

<p>After a 5-1 record as a starter, Del Rio is fighting to keep his job against redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and transfer Malik Zaire.</p>

After a 5-1 record as a starter, Del Rio is fighting to keep his job against redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and transfer Malik Zaire.

The University of Florida sat still on Thursday. Classes continued on like normal, but campus felt dead. Or at least, everywhere except its southwest corner. That’s where white nationalist Richard Spencer’s speech attracted attention and sparked confrontations between his small number of supporters and hundreds of protesters. The event was one of the biggest spectacles in recent university memory, with more than half a million dollars spent on security. But if you took a peek at most Twitter accounts associated with UF athletics, you’d have no idea it happened.

That means one of two things.

Either UF’s athletic department is so socially unaware of what’s happening in its community that this slipped by without them noticing or caring, or commentary on Spencer’s appearance was forbidden. In either case, quarterback Luke Del Rio deserves credit.

Del Rio tweeted “Let hate fall on deaf ears today #SpencerAtUF” at 10:18 Thursday morning. As of 8:30 p.m., it had over 500 retweets and 2,000 likes. He also lashed out at conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, who said Spencer got exactly what he wanted with attention from UF students. “I’m pretty sure today was a far cry from what #SpencerAtUF ideally wanted,” Del Rio tweeted, “But thanks for the insult.”

He later deleted the reply, but still, he did what his higher-ups wouldn’t.

There were other players who did their part as well. T.J. McCoy and Martez Ivey retweeted president Fuchs’ condemnation. Vosean Joseph tweeted “#UFTogether.” Jake Allen urged fellow students to be safe. The UF football account? Athletics director Scott Stricklin? Silence. It was the one event in Gainesville that required helicopters aside from one of their precious football games, and they couldn’t be bothered to address it.

Even the school’s main athletics account, @FloridaGators, said nothing. On the bright side, it wasn’t tweeting trivial — at least in this context — statistics and athletics updates. But silence is unacceptable for an institution so inextricably linked to the university and to Gainesville. And I don’t necessarily mean it needed to condemn Spencer and his speech.

Sure, condemnation would be ideal. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, Richard Spencer’s ideas are disgusting, and no entity should feel bad for saying so. Especially an entity that’s so important here. Still, I can understand why there wouldn’t be condemnation. Many sports fans don’t like politics/the real world mixing with sports, even if the message is as revolting as Spencer’s. Fine.

But come on. Not even an acknowledgement? Allen said he wished for folks to stay safe. The athletic department he plays for could at least do that much. That’s why it could learn from Del Rio.

This isn’t the first time Florida’s injured quarterback has spoken candidly about non-sports issues on Twitter, or in general. I remember talking to him at media day about how concussions were affecting the sport. He told me it was legitimately scary, and I could hear the sincerity in his voice. His coach, meanwhile, told me about how glad he was that UF is doing research on the subject without addressing the problem when I asked him the same question. Again, UF’s athletic department can learn something about authenticity from Del Rio.

But who am I kidding? UF’s athletic department doesn’t value authenticity. It values image. That’s why it makes its football players wear Gators golf shirts for press conferences no matter what they show up wearing themselves. It’s all about uniformity and making the brand look proper and sterile.

Even considering that goal, the university president was all over the airwaves condemning Spencer, and he arguably speaks for the school’s brand as much — or more — than the athletic department does. The athletic department’s own vision statement says it’s supposed to elevate that brand, so where the hell was it on Thursday?

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I’ll tell you where. Cowering in fear of judgment. In fear of appearing off-brand by speaking candidly about a real-world issue rather than embracing roboticism. Well, if judgment for taking a stand — or at least making an acknowledgment — is what its leaders were afraid of, I hope they’re scared as hell now. Because they deserve to be judged for this, and they deserve to be found guilty.

Ethan Bauer is a sports writer. Contact him at ebauer@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter at @ebaueri.

Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio was the highest-profile Gator athlete to comment on Richard Spencer's speaking event Thursday.

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