In response to Bill, from Tallahassee

This letter is written in response to Bill, who wanted desperately to inform the world that Not every critic of FSU Coach Willie Taggart is a Racist. More specifically, Bill thought it most pertinent to express disappointment in Florida State University for acknowledging Willie Taggart’s race at all, let alone the racist and violent image doctored of Taggart and shared online following the final game of a bitterly disappointing season. That image would cost the man who shared it his job. Furthermore, Bill also believed that FSU President John Thrasher should have expressed public criticism and concern for the direction of the Florida State University football program, in the middle of Willie Taggart’s inaugural season in the role. Below is my response to Bill.

Bill,

As a lifelong Seminole supporter, and proud alumnus of Florida State University, I will start by saying that I, like many of our fellow fans, am deeply disappointed in the results of the 2018 football season for our Seminoles. I believe we would be hard pressed to find any invested fan who will argue that Willie Taggart’s first season as Head Coach of our proud and prestigious program was a success, or that he is undeserving of criticism for the results.

I also want to express agreement with the idea that not every critic of Willie Taggart is a racist. That is a perfectly reasonable assertion. It is, however, an assertion that does not mean that President Thrasher, the University, and the fan base at large should remain silent when someone shares racist violent imagery of our public institution’s most visible employee. President Thrasher had the option to allow this social media incident to pass without comment, but the choice to issue a statement was made in an effort to reassure a large, diverse, local and global community of stakeholders that Florida State University does not take a neutral stance on racial discrimination and violence. As a stakeholder myself, I am extremely grateful for that decision.

Beyond the merit of the University taking a definitive stance in a public conversation that had spread beyond the local Tallahassee sports bubble, the idea of acknowledging Willie Taggart’s race at all seems to be a point of contention for you, as you referred to FSU announcing the historic aspect of the hire as playing “the race card”. Why is Florida State hiring its first Black head football coach a point of significance? Because College Football is a sport in which 57% of the players on the average Division I roster are Black males, and conversely, only 11% of all Division 1 head coaches are Black. As you can see, those numbers represent a significant disparity that is difficult to logically explain, without acknowledging structural barriers within the job pipeline, and profession, which makes it less attainable and likely for Black coaches to get those opportunities. For that reason, the hiring of Willie Taggart at FSU is now, and always will be historically significant.

As for President Thrasher — his decision to abstain from publicly criticizing or expressing concern in a first-year coach is not something that should alarm you or anyone else. On the contrary, had he done so, it would have simply been the wrong move. What good comes of sowing public doubt in an employee that the University is not in the position to fire and replace immediately, only creating further barriers for said employee to overcome in his efforts to deliver desired results? In the event that Willie Taggart was fired, how difficult would it be to convince the next top coaching talent to come in and accept a position where his boss may just be prone to publicly berating his performance six weeks into his first season? It would seem to me that those are actions that should be saved for a time in which adequate time has been given for a man to implement his system and program and the University is truly prepared and capable of taking action. Year one simply is not that time.

On the whole, it is plausible to believe that FSU fans are far more concerned with the results on the field than they are the pigment of Willie Taggart’s skin. Despite this, there have been many instances throughout a trying and frustrating season in which fan critiques have gone beyond the scope of football, and ventured into racial and personal territory. We are all free to criticize Willie Taggart’s acumen and record as a football coach, but the decision to ignore those who insist on making a connection between disappointing results and his race — well, that is exactly how we perpetuate the idea that people who look like Willie Taggart are less deserving of an opportunity. As a proud alumnus and fan base, we wouldn’t want to be a party to such backward and outdated ideas, would we?

Adam Tolliver

adam.c.tolliver@gmail.com