Starting next year, University of Florida fans will no longer be met with the iconic “gator bait” chant at any games.
University of Florida President Kent Fuchs announced the discontinuation Thursday, citing a reported racist practice from the 1800s of the same name as his reasoning for the removal.
“While I know of no racism associated with our ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase,” Fuchs wrote in the letter to the UF community. The decision has drawn fire from fans, and the player who started it.
The chant began in 1995, when star defensive linebacker Lawrence Wright, who is African American, shouted out “If you ain’t a Gator, you must be Gator bait!” following the team’s first national championship win. It has evolved into a key part of Gator’s team culture, where the phrase is chanted with “chomping” arms while the Jaws theme plays. For Wright, the sudden choice to ban was the wrong one.
“I’m not going for it,” the star linebacker said in a recent interview. “I created something for us. It’s a college football thing. It’s not a racist thing, it’s about us, the Gator Nation.”
The horrific practice Kuchs refers to dates back about a hundred years. Reportedly, towns in Florida used black children to lure alligators for hunters. Historian Franklin Hughes, who studied the practice, states that while the stories reporting on it are questionable, its likely to have at least occasionally happened. “I don’t want to put a limit on the evil people do,” he recently said in an interview. For the Kuchs, this racist connotation was enough to discontinue the chant.
The history of this practice, and the claimed connection to the Jaws-inspired fight song, was news to many students and fans as well. As such, many have joined Wright’s call to back off the chant, with a petition for its reinstatement gathering over 11 thousand signatures in under a day. Yet, these fans likely face an uphill battle.
While Wright is correct in stating that the cheer has no connection to the horrific practice, school leaders have all but doomed the fight song. By calling it racist, it is now associated with racism, even if incorrectly. And in the current atmosphere, the school board is unlikely to risk accusations of white supremacy by backtracking.
Since nationwide protests began over the death of George Floyd, those in positions of power have found that the burden of proof is suddenly on them to show their lack of racism. For the elites of the university system, it’s a safer career move to be seen as going too far then not far enough. As long as this system of incentives is in place, it is unlikely Wright’s catchphrase will be allowed to return.