Published March 24, 2010
COLUMBIA, S.C. – COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Black lawmakers are urging black football recruits to reconsider playing for the University of South Carolina because the school could lose its lone black trustee.
State Rep. David Weeks, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he doesn't think there are enough votes in the Legislature to get lawyer Leah B. Moody appointed to a full term on the 22-member board next month.
She is the board's only black member and is finishing the term of a trustee who resigned before pleading guilty to bank fraud.
"We are asking young athletes to be aware ... there are folks in this state who say it's fine to play ball but not be on the governing board," Weeks said.
He and several other lawmakers, including former Gamecocks lineman Anton Gunn, a black Democrat from Columbia, said members of the black community were calling recruits and their families and asking them to rethink playing for the school.
While the Gamecocks have been mediocre for years, the football team and coach Steve Spurrier draw massive fan support in a state with no professional sports. The Southeastern Conference team is the subject of radio talk shows and media coverage year-round, and home games at the school's enormous stadium in the capital city draw tens of thousands for hours of tailgating each week during the season.
The team had a 2009 record of 7-6 and an average attendance of more than 75,300 at its seven home games.
Lawmakers would not say how many recruits had been called or whether any were reconsidering their commitments. They also would not identify the callers.
Gunn said top high school recruit Marcus Lattimore was among those contacted. His parents could not immediately be reached for comment and his high school coach, Chris Miller, said he had not heard about any calls to the running back.
Gamecocks recruit Brandon Golson, a 6-foot-2 linebacker, hasn't received any calls about the school's board of trustees, Calhoun County football coach Walter Wilson said Wednesday.
"My kids don't really get involved in that," Wilson said. "They're going to the school because they want to go the school. Not for who is a trustee or whatnot — that's not what it's about."
Under NCAA rules, recruits who by this time of year have signed letters of intent to play would lose a year of eligibility should they transfer to a different school. However, a school could release a player from his commitment.
University athletics department spokesman Steve Fink said he was not aware of the calls and did not have an immediate comment.
Trustees represent different regions of the state and Moody is up against attorney Alton Hyatt, who has law and pharmacy degrees from the university.
"I think the Legislature should elect who they view as the best person, the most qualified for the position," he said Wednesday.
Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, who is pushing Hyatt's candidacy, says the attorney has support from 83 of the approximately 86 lawmakers he needs to win. Simrill said race has nothing to do with his efforts.
"It's unfortunate there are those that would urge the hurting of a university over one of those 16 USC seats," Simrill said. "I think it's very heavy-handed from the standpoint of a threat and it's really uncalled for."
The University of South Carolina has more than 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students at its Columbia campus — and about 11 percent, or 3,126, are black. The 2008 census estimated about 28.5 percent of the state's residents were black.
The board has 16 members who are elected by lawmakers and six others either appointed or on the panel because they have high positions in state government, like the governor, or with the university.
"With that many board members, to not have a single African-American and to send the message around this world that this body does not care about diversity but yet we want to recruit black athletes? You can't send that mixed message," said Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat and alumnus of the University of South Carolina Law School.
Moody, who is also one of three women on the board, did not immediately return a message left with her assistant. She was appointed in 2009 to fill out the remainder of the term of Samuel Foster II, who was in line to become the board's first African-American chairman until he resigned a month before pleading to federal bank fraud charges. He became the first black member elected to the board in 1984.