UF alumna Nicole Mollison wanted the “Gator Bait” chant scrubbed from Gator Band’s repertoire as early 2009. She’d learned of its racist past and brought her concerns to band leadership.
They didn’t listen. For 11 years, no one did.
It wasn't until Thursday that UF President Kent Fuchs announced in an email to students that the cheer will no longer be performed by the Gator Band at UF sporting events, due to the “horrific historical racist imagery associated with the phrase.”
This was only one of numerous measures outlined in the email, including ending the university’s use of prison labor in agricultural operations, but it gained widespread attention from Gator sports fans.
Records from the 19th and 20th centuries show that hunters used Black babies to lure alligators out of the swamp. Postcards from the period contain images of Black babies on a log with an alligator looming nearby; often accompanied with the phrase “Alligator Bait.”
The term was also perpetuated in the song “Mammy’s Little Alligator Bait,” composed by Henry Wise and Sidney Perrin in 1899.
Once Mollison learned about the chant’s origins, she went graduate student band leadership, but did not go to Professor Jay Watkins, the associate director of bands or Chip Birkner, the assistant director of bands with her concerns.
“I was 18, 19 years old, and we had already been shot down, and people were coming to us saying ‘let it go,’” she said. “So, we kind of just internalized it and stuck with it, unfortunately.”
She was approached by a fellow member of the band, Stephanie Robertson, and Joel Williams, the president of the Alpha Eta chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi—the band fraternity at UF, after bringing up her concerns.
In transcripts of messages shared with The Alligator, dated October 3, 2009, Mollison was told by Robertson that her concerns were “f*cking ridiculous” and that “it’s only racial if you make it that way.”
In other messages sent to Mollison, Williams said, “You realize it was many decades ago?” and “Stop whining about something unrelated that happened way before the song was made up.”
“It just felt like no one was really listening to us,” Mollison said. “It was really hurtful and painful. We were basically told to shut up and play our instruments.”
Robertson told The Alligator she was sorry for what she said. She added that she personally reached out to her friends who protested the song and apologized to them. Williams, meanwhile, did not respond to The Alligator’s numerous requests for comment.
Mollison said she is happy that UF is finally making these changes and feels vindicated by Fuchs’ decision.
“When a school has these racial ties, they are going to rear their ugly head at some point,” she said. “I think this decision drives home the point that UF will deal with any kind of racial inequality, which is, I’m proud to say that.”
While Mollison doesn’t have to adapt to the sudden changes, Jennifer Lopez, a 19-year-old sophomore and a current member of the Gator Band, does.
She said she expects the band to replace it with a new song, but said that it may be tricky due to the first home football game being less than three months away.
“If we don’t get a new chant, it will probably be replaced by the Orange and Blue fight song,” she said. “We have a lot of songs that we do. It is something that is important to us, but I don’t think it’ll be that frustrating that it’s gone.”
Lopez said “Gator Bait” was personally one of her favorite chants to play, but she’s happy that the university is showing that it stands for something greater.
However, not everyone is happy with Fuchs’ decision. One of them is Daniel Weldon, a current UF Law student and a former Florida linebacker who appeared in two games in 2018.
Weldon was also the former Chairman of the Florida Federation of College Republicans, the organization that assists Florida College Republicans chapters.
“I played for the Gators, and something we always talked about was the Gator Standard, and part of that is honoring those who came before you,” he said. “I think tradition is very important, and I find it outrageous that we are taking something the university said has no association with racism and canceling it anyway.”
After Thursday’s announcement, Weldon created a petition to demand the chant continue to be played. It has almost 22,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
In addition, the UF chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom announced it plans on hosting “Gator Bait Chant: Keep the Tradition” event at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 5, the same day as the first home football game against Eastern Washington University. At the end of the first quarter, the group plans to lead the chant.
Lawrence Wright, the former All-American safety who famously said “If you ain’t a Gator, you’re Gator Bait,” after beating FSU in November 1995, said in an interview with The Gainesville Sun that he is upset with UF's decision and wants to talk to Fuchs.
"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,” he said. “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."
Meanwhile, Mollison said that this is the right step and she’s excited to see UF do more to promote equity.
“The university has these things in its history,” she said. “I think this is necessary to start the process of improving the image of the university.”
Noah is a third year journalism-sports and media student from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He has been with The Alligator since Spring 2019 and has covered men’s and women’s tennis, gymnastics and volleyball. When he isn’t on his beat, Noah is usually sadden over his beloved South Florida sports teams, such as the Heat and Dolphins.