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Pressure mounts to reinstate men’s track and field and cross country

Summer Robinson, Senior News Reporter

Members of the men’s and women’s cross country and track and field teams protest in front of President Clements’ House on Nov. 21.

It has been three months since Clemson’s athletic director, Dan Radakovich, released his statement on discontinuing the men’s track and field and cross country teams. The decision caused an uproar in the track and field community, but the initial support was not enough to immediately force a reversal of the decision. However, since the beginning of the movement, there has been an exponential increase in support from people across the country, only putting even more pressure on Clemson University and its top brass. 
When Clemson’s athletic department decided to discontinue the men’s teams, there was an immediate effort from the team members to unify and fight for a reversal of the decision. Many athletes and alumni recognized the potential fallacy behind the decision, and one former Clemson alumnus, Mike Beaudreau, even called the choice a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
While the athletes had the support of some parents and other programs, the movement was still in the beginning phases. Now, after three months of unwavering devotion, it is not just the athletes and a handful of parents and alumni joining the student-athletes. Instead, there has been heavy involvement from political leaders and national media. 
On Dec. 30, 2020, the movement to save the men’s teams received a significant boost from South Carolina State Senator Marton Kimpson. Sen. Kimpson heard about the decision and sent a formal letter directly to Clemson President Jim Clements. 
In his letter, Kimpson said, “I am disturbed by Clemson University’s decision to discontinue its men’s cross country and track and field program… I am requesting that [President Peeler] appoint a special bipartisan subcommittee of the South Carolina Senate charged with conducting a thorough investigation into Clemson University’s decision.” 
The direct letter to President Clements instead of to Radakovich or the board of trustees does not come as a shock to many supporters of the #SaveClemsonXCTF movement. President Clements has been a focal point of many recent posts and statements by the #SaveClemsonXCTF social media accounts since he does not follow the official Clemson track and field account and seldom shows his support to the program.

Beaudreau, who coaches high school track and has been heavily involved from the start of the movement, has noticed President Clements’s lack of support. He said, “People can say whatever they want, but I try to judge people by what they do. When DJ [Uiagalelei] was being recruited in California, [President Clements] was calling him and talking to him, and we can’t even get the guy to follow our [official] account?”

For many, President Clements has not shown nearly the amount of support for the track and field and cross country program as he should. Clemson high jumper and one of the movement leaders, Anthony Hamilton Jr., said, “I feel like the leadership has to be a lot better.” He also added that if the leadership is “going to do this, at least put it out on social media. You know they’re hiding from you. They don’t follow the account. They’re not posting anything supporting us… As a whole, the leadership is just wishy-washy. You can tell it’s favoritism.”

Although President Clements is aware of the movement and the support behind it, his statement to the media is that he “[supports] the decision by our Athletic Director to discontinue the men’s track and field and cross country programs. While this is a difficult decision, it is in the best interest of Clemson to ensure long-term success of our athletics department.” 

In his letter, Kimpson also mentioned that he is concerned with the university’s decision because of the “impact [it] will have on the future of men’s cross country and track and field athletes.” He went on to say that “based on the current demographics of the program, cutting it will have a generational effect on African American males.” 
The effect Sen. Kimpson is referring to may have some truth behind it, as the discontinuation of the men’s teams would result in cutting 67% of Clemson’s non-revenue producing African American athletes. Additionally, the discontinuation would result in cutting 3% of the overall African American student population. 

Being African American, Hamilton Jr. said that the decision “doesn’t look good and it doesn’t make the university representable at all. I feel like taking the opportunity away from students that look like me or come from where I come from, or just trying to get out of worse situations that they are in, it just doesn’t look good.” Hamilton Jr. has been a high jumper for the men’s team for three years and has an extreme passion for the sport, but for him, if the decision is finalized, “Clemson is going to be looked down upon.”

The political action did not end with Kimpson’s letter, however. A federal civil rights complaint is now joining Kimpson’s formal request. The complaint is being filed by Russell Dinkins, who is a Princeton graduate and former collegiate runner. 

Dinkins argues that the decision to discontinue the men’s teams violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI states that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Dinkins has also said in a video supporting the movement to save the men’s teams, that “what president James P. Clements & AD Dan Radakovich are doing is racist.”

Diving into the “Federal financial assistance” section, many supporters find it interesting that one of the reasons behind the men’s teams’ discontinuation is that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused too great of a financial loss. According to Beaudreau, Clemson Athletics lost $2 million less than the initial expected loss. That exact amount happens to be the annual cost of men’s track and field. 

Beaudreau has helped raise $262,350, so long as the teams are reinstated, through a financial pledge program. The money raised, combined with the fact that Clemson did not lose as much money as expected due to the pandemic, has given supporters, and even national media, a stronger reason to ask for reinstatement. 

ESPN has also jumped in on the movement. John Anderson, a commentator on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” mentioned the men’s teams’ discontinuation on multiple occasions. In two different post-game Clemson basketball highlight segments, Anderson said, “Clemson has a basketball team, they need to bring back their men’s track team,” and, “The Tigers have a basketball team, they’re dropping men’s track and field and cross country which is disappointing… Clemson don’t hurt yourself, bring back men’s track and field.” 

The increase in support from Sen. Kimpson, Dinkins, and many others are putting Clemson University in a challenging position. The decision to discontinue the men’s teams came when there were significant financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, among other factors. While there is no guarantee that reinstatement will occur, it is clear that President Clements and Radakovich will be continually hearing from those asking for a reconsideration of the decision.

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