clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Roundtable: Kentucky - Texas Western Anniversary and perception of Adolph Rupp

The Kentucky/Texas Western title game and perception of Adolph Rupp are two of the most controversial topics in UK lore. We discuss both and debunk myths about the Baron of the Bluegrass.

Malcolm Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Malcolm Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

In case you missed it, Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Kentucky/Texas Western title game, and to commemorate it, ESPN aired the game in its entirety Wednesday night.

This was a great moment in sports and life in general as it helped pave the way for equality in college athletics. Even though UK is essentially the bad guy in that they're who Test Western had to beat for the title, there's no question it was a great moment in sports and a great story overall.

But one of the few tragedies of the story is how it's wrongfully told in several areas, whether it's the movie Glory Road or just how lazy journalists portray Rupp as an ignorant racist who was essentially the bad guy in all of this.

People frequently seem to overlook the fact that not only did Rupp recruit black players, but even had them on his high school teams:

Needless to say, the game and how that famous Rupp's Runts team, as well as Rupp himself, were portrayed is a very sensitive subject. That's why we gathered our writers for a roundtable on the very topic.

Glenn Logan

The one thing that everyone should do before commenting on Adolph Rupp is read Jon Scott's exhaustive examination of the accusation of his racism.  All the good, all the bad, and all the bullshit is addressed in great detail.  It is truly a testament to how journalism should be, but no longer is.

After you read that, no matter when it is, you will have what you need to discuss Adolph Rupp's attitude toward race.  It isn't all good, nor all bad.  Like most of us, it's a mixed bag full of gray and smoke and ... for lack of a better term - junk.

Life is messy. Adolph Rupp's life was as messy as any considering his success, his attitudes antebellum and, by today's standard, racist.

Of course, by today's standard, everybody not in sackcloth and ashes begging the government to confiscate all their money for reparations is racist.  The lens of time distorts everything, despite the supposed perfection of hindsight.

Paul Jordan (former Wildcat Blue Nation manager)

To be honest, the Texas Western victory over Kentucky was a historical achievement and a great moment in sports.  And I would trust the telling of this story in a non-biased manner by almost anyone other than ESPN.  I am one of the more reasonable Kentucky fans, and I acknowledge that Kentucky has their warts and checkered pasts, but I am of the camp that will firmly defend the allegations that Adolph Rupp was racist ... and unfortunately, I don't see how this game can be presented without making the implication.

It just makes the story better as evidenced by the fact that the movie took several liberties with the real story.  
Granted, even if ESPN play the game as straight and true to the facts, there really is no way to avoid the racial implications.  I have researched Rupp extensively and I know several things about him that does not make it into any telecast about this game.

For instance, Kentucky was one of just a few SEC schools that routinely scheduled out of conference games that had black players.  For a while, Rupp was the ONLY SEC coach that would do this.  Also, Kentucky took the place of Alabama and Mississippi State and Alabama in previous NCAA Tournaments because those teams wanted to avoid a matchup just as this.

In the end, I won't be watching this documentary.  I don't mind Jay Bilas or even John Saunders.  I am sure they will be as fair and balanced as possible.  And I don't blame ESPN for showing it.  It's a great event like I said previously.

The simple truth is I don't enjoy watching grainy, non-HD sporting events and I'm not going to watch an old game knowing that it will end badly for my team.  It's great for those that want to watch, but it's just not something I'm interested in.

I would not watch it regardless of the teams involved.  I'd like to get outraged over it possibly portraying Kentucky poorly, but I know the true story and in the end, I just don't care.

Jonathon Leverenz

I never got around to seeing Glory Road, nor am I anywhere near old enough to say anything firsthand about Coach Rupp, I don't really have anything worthwhile to say about the Texas Western game one way or the other.

I do remember that roughly 13-odd years ago there was a really nice documentary aired on WKYT that Dick Gabriel put together about Rupp and his history with segregation/integration at UK.

I don't remember too much about it except that I thought they did a good job documenting his history and interviewing the people who were actually involved - certainly a much better job than what the majority of other pieces do on this topic.

Jeremy Chisenhall

When looking at the 1966 National Championship game, it is a situation where we have to set aside our Kentucky bias and just respect and honor one of the greatest moments in sports history. An all African-American starting five beating the University of Kentucky (who at the time had four titles) is undoubtedly one of the biggest moments for human rights and equality in sports history.

We really don't know how Rupp felt about African-American rights. The way he has been portrayed probably isn't fair, but we're not necessarily at liberty to say. It's likely that he was portrayed in that light just to help push the narrative, but when a team at that time is starting five African-Americans and winning a National Championship, there is no reason for the narrative to be pushed more. The story that already exists is powerful and compelling enough.

The 1966 National Championship was incredible, and a moment that would change the sport of basketball forever. We should respect that without attempting to portray Rupp as a racist.

Zac Oakes

Obviously, the 1966 Kentucky/Texas Western matchup was an iconic moment in not only sports, but in history. It opened the door for equality in college basketball and put the world of college athletics on notice. It was a defining moment in history, and should be celebrated as such.

Kentucky is seen as the villain in the movie, because a generous portion is focused on that game because of Kentucky's all-white roster. Then the focus turns to "Was Rupp a racist?"

To me, I first look at the fact that Rupp was a man of his time. Was he a racist? Well, the term "racist" is different to everybody. Everybody has different definitions of what they view as racist. Was he racist? It's probable. However, I'm not sure that Rupp was the person he was portrayed as in the movie. I can't say for sure though. I wasn't there (much less alive) during this time.

I'll agree with Jason on this. I believe that Rupp should've been more aggressive in attempting to bring African-American players into the Kentucky basketball program. I think that's a completely fair criticism and one I will not debate. Rupp actually recruited some African-American players in 1964, but allegedly spoke in-depth with them about the difficulties they would face. What was actually said during those conversations is historically disputed. Could he have done more? Absolutely.

However, I do not think Rupp was a person that held such racial hatred that he was furious or repulsed at the thought of being around African-Americans as the movie portrays.

The only other part of the movie that I didn't like was the false portrayal of the hotel room at (then) East Texas State where racial slurs were painted on the walls of the room. It came out that these events never happened, and the University asked for an apology. I realize that things like that are added for dramatic effect, but to me, that was a notable part of the movie that was historically untrue.

Overall, I think this was a good movie that recognized the historical and societal impact of a courageous group of young men.

James Streble

The game that Kentucky played against Texas Western represents a cultural landmark not only for sports but for our country. During the 1960's, African Americans, especially in the south, were dealing with racism and segregation in their daily life. Sports represented a way for them to be on a level playing field with white Americans. While the playing field was on equal ground, life off of the court, field, or track still held obstacles and oppression.

The SEC was still a segregated conference at the time of the historic game. Adolph Rupp did not recruit black players, but neither did any coach in the SEC at the time. Rupp was not perfect and he was a man of his time, a time that was, unfortunately, rife with bigotry and hate. I think Rupp, fair or not, represents the racial divide of the time.

The movie Glory Road that was based on the historic game paints Rupp, the Kentucky players, and the Kentucky fan base as all-out racists. This is unfair and irresponsible filmmaking intended to cause an emotional and vitriolic response in the viewer. But this isn't just Hollywood fantasy, people held these feelings about Kentucky and Rupp before the film was ever made.

But now I think that facts are coming to light, and we actually have the film to thank for that. People started questioning events in Glory Road, such as Rupp making racist comments at an airport, Kentucky players making racist comments on the court, Rupp not shaking hands after the game, and fans waving confederate flags during the game. None of that occurred. It was fantasy. It was an unfair portrait of events that were much more complex.

Texas Western coach Don Haskins had this to say: "One thing I want to say is that the Kentucky players could not have been more gracious after the game," Haskins told the El Paso Times. "Rupp, well, I don't know ... but I do know he shook hands."

Rupp did eventually recruit a black player, the first in the SEC, in 1970, and that was center Tom Payne.

What happened between Kentucky and Texas Western deserves more than shaky filmmaking and half-truths. The real story needs to be told, and what better way to do that than revisit the actual game as a historical event instead of watching historical fiction. I am glad that Kentucky is a part of this step forward in racial history, even if it was on the opposite side.

Greg Allen Edwards

For my part on this, I don't know how Coach Rupp viewed his players being all white vs. an all-black starting five, because Rupp only wanted to do one thing, and that was win. You could have been multi-colored and Rupp would have recruited you if he thought that you could help his ball club win.

The issues with that happening, however, were many and varied. There were those who felt that the kids that Texas Western recruited played a more wide-open style of ball, that they were undisciplined and too raw for Kentucky Basketball and it's polished and refined style of play.

There were also those who said that Rupp was pressured by both Alumni and the UK hierarchy not to recruit black players, and those in the SEC who would not even guarantee that black kids got hotel rooms, restaurant service, or even their safety guaranteed in the cities that the SEC teams played. Any of those factors or all of them could have come into play.

I was an infant in those days, but I still remember that loss stinging my father and family members right up until Joe B. Hall righted that wrong by bringing home the title in 1978, a full 12 years later.

Could Rupp have been a racist? Sure. He could have also been a behind the scenes crusader for Civil Rights, I don't know. I only know this; Rupp was quoted once as saying " You show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser". 
In the end, I believe that should be Rupp's legacy. A hard-nosed,  no excuses, win at all costs ball coach. The likes of which shall never be seen again.