The University of Florida will discontinue its “Gator Bait” fight song because of “horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” school president Kent Fuchs said in an open letter Thursday.
The school banned the fight song as part of a sweeping initiative to combat racism following nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Fuchs also committed to the formation of two task forces to assess the University of Florida’s relationship with issues of race, pledged to remove any monuments on campus that celebrate the Confederacy, among other moves.
“It is past time for UF to commit and engage in this challenging, uncomfortable, transformational work,” Fuchs said. “We know that we cannot undo lifetimes of injustice and racism, but we believe we can make progress - in education, in advancing truth, reconciliation and justice, and in anti-racism, equality and working to eradicate inequities.”
The school’s athletic teams are known as the University of Florida Gators. When the fight song played, fans in the crowd would imitate a chomping motion with their arms and shout “Gator Bait.”
A 2016 report from ESPN’s The Undefeated detailed the racially charged history of the phrase, including several articles from news outlets in the early 20th century in which black children were described as being used as bait for alligators. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan detailed the history of the phrase “alligator bait” in 2013.
Former University of Florida football player Lawrence Wright popularized the phrase at the school after a 1995 win over Florida State. At the time, Wright declared “If you ain’t a Gator, ya Gator bait, baby” in reference to the school’s mascot.
Wright, who is black, told the Gainesville Sun that he was against the school’s decision to discontinue the phrase.
“I’m not going for it,” Wright told the newspaper. “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.”
Fuchs vowed that the University of Florida would conduct racial bias training for all current and new students and faculty. In addition, the school will step up efforts to support the black community in the admissions process and through support of local small businesses.
“This process will not be easy, and we will need to work together through the imperfections, missteps and complications that always accompany change. But the progress we seek is fundamental to who we are at UF and to our expectations of ourselves, and I look forward to joining all of you on behalf of our campus, community and country,” Fuchs said.