There is an excellent article over at the Detroit News by John U. Bacon. It is about President Ford, Willis Ward, and Yost's Racism. Bacon highlights some of the best and the worst of Michigan Football. The best? That UofM was a leader and trendsetter, standing against racism on the gridiron. Coach Kipke recruited and welcomed Willis Ward, who roomed with Gerald Ford. The worst? That Coach and AD Fielding H. Yost was flat out a racist. Yost was apparently furious that Kipke had recruited Ward, possibly coming to blows with Kipke. Yost brought things to a head by scheduling Georgia Tech, a team from the south, and thus a team that refused to be on the field at the same time with blacks.
Many, perhaps most of you, have heard of this story. Sometime, I hope to see the recent documentary movie on the subject. There were several things that were new to me.
- I never knew the extent of Yost's racism, a black mark against Michigan.
- I never knew that Ford went in to quit the team over the matter, showing courageous and tremendous conviction.
- I never knew that the University of Michigan community stood so clearly against racism, with public protests and letter writing.
- I never knew that the University President Ruthven didn't have enough courage to stand up for Michigan's ideals.
- And I never knew that the whole incident cast a shadow on the entire football program, bringing the program the worst year ever, and bringing it down for a good half decade.
We can be thankful for Michigan, for men like Gerald Ford and Willis Ward. We can be thankful for current men like John U. Bacon. And we can be thankful that there is indeed a Michigan way, a right way, to do things. Or, as Coach Hoke quipped, "This is Michigan, fergodsakes."
Some will suggest this is ancient history. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. We see these discussions again today, with regards to Jeremy Lin, with regards to the irresponsible and offensive use of twitter and other social media, with regards to slurs that reflect well neither on those who make them nor on institutions that give them a pass. I'm glad that this story is part of our history at Michigan, and hope that it sets a pattern for years to come.