The University of Florida’s decision to ban the “gator bait” cheer was met with mixed reviews from some former football players on Thursday.
Florida president Kent Fuchs said in a letter the cheer would be banned because of its ties to racism. The cheer includes fans putting their arms into a chomping motion while shouting the school’s slogan.
“While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” Fuchs wrote. “Accordingly University Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer.”
The racism link was drawn from articles from the past, including a 1923 Time Magazine story which described how “colored babies were being used for alligator bait” in Chipley, Fla.
“The infants are allowed to play in the shallow water while expert riflemen watch from concealment nearby,” the article said. “When a saurian (alligator) approaches this prey, he is shot by the riflemen.” The Chipley Chamber of Commerce responded to the article by calling it a “silly lie, false and absurd.”
A 2017 article from The Undefeated also laid out a story about how black babies were being used as gator bait.
The decision to ban the cheer wasn’t exactly met with resounding applause.
“That’s not a good decision, especially when you don’t talk to the person who coined the phrase,” former Gators safety Lawrence Wright, who popularized the cheer in the 1990s, told Gators Territory. “It had nothing to do with babies being fed to alligators. That’s somebody who didn’t go to the University of Florida. We wouldn’t do that.
“When I said it, I didn’t call out for babies. I called out other schools that were gator bait. We were specifically talking about them. Anything that’s not a gator, is gator bait. Doesn’t matter the sport. Even there’s a debate. If you ain’t on our debate team, you gator bait.”
He told the Gainesville Sun: “I’m not going for it. “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.”
Wright added that he wanted to talk to Fuchs about the chant because he feels removing “gator bait” doesn’t apply in the same sense as removing other racist statues and symbols.
Ahmad Black, who played safety for the Gators from 2007 to 2010, had a different opinion.
“It’s weird because we all know the Gator Bait chant as something to get us going. But that was before we saw the history,” he told Gators Territory. “Now that we know and we’re educated on the phrase gator bait, we have a different stance. I know Lawrence Wright didn’t mean it like that, obviously.
“But nowadays somebody can hear that chant at a game and take it the wrong way. If I’m a future recruit and I see these images on social media, the Gator Bait chant would bother me. Even though it’s not affiliated with UF and the chant didn’t come from that, I wouldn’t want to go there if the fans kept doing it.”
Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier told the Gainesville Sun he understood the logic behind removing the cheer.
“It kind of surprised me, but I didn’t know there was anything racial about it,” he said. “But when [Athletic Director] Scott Stricklin told me about some of the history of it, I said, ‘Let’s get rid if it.’”
A Change.org petition to keep the cheer was also created after the announcement came down.
“The University of Florida will be discontinuing our time honored tradition of chanting ‘Gator Bait’ at all Athletic events,” the petition’s description read. “This is due to finding ‘no evidence of racism associated’ with the chant but because racists outside the university would feed black children to Gators. The university admits that there is no racism, but is canceling it anyways. We need to keep our traditions and demand that UF honor them.”