When the Grambling State University Tigers face the University of Pittsburgh Panthers this Saturday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh it will be “Dj vu all over again” for Grambling alumnus Winston Gragg. You see, Gragg claims to not only have conceived the idea of an annual “Diversity Game” pitting the Panthers against a rotating historically Black university team. (Grambling was to be the opponent for at least the first two years) but says he presented the idea to the Pittsburgh athletic department and in the process helped negotiate a quarter million-dollar payday for Grambling.
And how, according to Gragg, did the athletic programs that in the past have produced likes of Dan Marino and Doug Williams thank him for his two years of hard work? Gragg claims that after reaching an agreement on a payday Grambling told him he was on his own and Pittsburgh added injury to insult by reneging on an agreed charitable donation then informing the Pittsburgh native that if he wanted to attend the game he would need to purchase a ticket.
If that was all to the story it would be easy to dismiss Gragg’s claims and lump him along with the guy in Texas who claims to have “invented” High School Musical or the Florida man who alleges Disney lifted “Hannah Montana” from his fertile imagination.
But Gragg brings more to the table than an active imagination and a vaguely similar story of teenage angst.
Gragg has a timeline, memos, phone records, a member of the Rooney family (owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers) who admits being present at meetings with Gragg and the university, a Pittsburgh City Councilman who says he put Gragg in touch with officials from Heinz Field and the same Heinz Field official who told this writer that he did indeed bring Gragg to a meeting with the university where the initial details were outlined.
Best of all Gragg has a lawyer, a white University of Pittsburgh graduate who this week will file 1.6 million dollar suit against both universities alleging among other claims fraud and conversion.
Winston Gragg’s plight reminds me of a lesson my father passed along to me many years ago.
The freedom to contract is not only the most violated civil liberty, but that ongoing violation has done more harm to black men than lynching, Jim Crow and all the would be Bull Connors combined.
The same game that’s being played on Winston Gragg is the same game they played on my father and the same game they played on his father.
Of course there are several sides to every story. Pittsburgh says that despite having no historical or academic ties to Grambling that it is only a mere coincidence that a former player under Eddie Robinson approached them about having a game that among other things would honor the legendary coach and the school having the same idea for such a game.
Grambling, for what it’s worth, has refused to comment on the matter secure in the knowledge that silence is golden especially with a quarter of a million dollars on the line.
Grambling’s silence on this matter brings to mind the minority construction company that fronts for the Italian owned contractor while watching as jobs, dollars, and economic opportunities flee to other communities.
History (and the internet) has shown that at some point everything has a price I just thought Eddie Robinson’s legacy would be worth more to Grambling than $250,000.
Jones is the president of the Cleveland chapter of the National Action Network, a national civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton.