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John Calipari opens up about the Rupp Arena name change debate

“I’m all ears. I’m going to listen.”

John Calipari Sea of Blue

Back in July, a group of UK faculty members in the African-American and Africana Studies program asked for the name of Rupp Arena be changed.

Now, Kentucky head coach John Calipari has said that he is willing to listen on calls for changing the Rupp Arena name.

“From what I understand, they were talking about a lot of different things,” Calipari said during a Wednesday zoom meeting with media. “This is another chance for us to listen and learn.

“Some people agree. Some people are not going to agree. I would tell you for me personally, knowing the (Rupp) family, knowing Herky (Rupp) like I did, what’s out there that tells me it’s something different? I’m all ears. I’m going to listen.”

Calipari went on to note that he has not heard from any recruits, current players or former players who have voiced concerns about the Rupp Arena name. But he said he has held conversations with his team about nationwide protests after the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other African Americans.

“I’m all ears to all this stuff,” he said. “You have the thing in Wisconsin. What in the world? After this, all that we’ve been through again. Am I missing something? Is everybody missing something?

“We’ve just got to keep talking about it. And then you’ve got to look at this in a bigger picture of what we’re doing. I’m telling you, what we’re trying to do here on this campus and what I’m trying to do within my basketball program, the influence that I would have within athletics, that isn’t all encompassing, we’re trying to take advantage.”

Since the faculty wrote the letter wanting to change the name, there have been many defenders of Rupp who have pointed to the fact that he attempted to recruit Black Kentucky high school stars Wes Unseld and Butch Beard in the 1960s, and that Rupp had a Black player on one of his Illinois high school teams in the 1920s to try and prove that the though of Rupp as a racist is wrong.

Rupp would sign Kentucky’s first Black player, Thomas Payne, in 1969, which was six years after the school moved to integrate its athletic teams. However, in a 1971 interview Rupp defended his record saying he faced issues that were out of his control.

You can read more about and listen to the 13-minute interview here.

This is obviously a very sensitive subject, but Calipari has made it clear it’s a discussion he’s willing to have. Who knows what, if anything will actually come of the call to rename Rupp Arena, but there needs to at least be an open discussion about it, and Calipari is all for it.