The Loyola men’s basketball team is possibly getting the most attention it’s gotten since it went to the Sweet 16 in 1985 — possibly even since it won the National Championship in 1963.
On Loyola’s campus, the story of the ‘63 team is well known. The team took part in the “Game of Change” when Loyola’s head coach George Ireland started four African American players in the regional semifinal against the all-white Mississippi State University. The starting lineup broke the common gentleman’s agreement that no more than three African Americans could play at once.
The Ramblers went on to beat the University of Cincinnati in the National Championship game, but for years the Game of Change was overshadowed by the 1966 National Championship between Texas Western University and the University of Kentucky. Texas Western started five African Americans, and the story was featured in the movie “Glory Road.”
The National Championship and the Game of Change were important for the civil rights movement and provided some of the most important moments in Loyola’s history, but that was 55 years ago. Loyola can’t point to the Game of Change to show its diversity or respect for minority students anymore, because Loyola isn’t quite diverse — Loyola’s student demographic is 60 percent white, 16.1 percent hispanic, 13.3 percent Asian and 5.5 percent African American. And recently, it has shown a lack of respect for its minority students.
The attention on this season’s Loyola team, whose recent NCAA successes have sparked its new motto, “no finish line,” has understandably brought the spotlight back on the 1963 team. The Game of Change was mentioned by The Ringer, Chicago Tribune and The PHOENIX’s own former sports editor Madeline Kenney in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Loyola head coach Porter Moser and his players have been asked about the 1963 team frequently while they’ve made their run to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Redshirt junior guard and Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Player of the Year Clayton Custer said the ‘63 team is a part of the current team’s history and an inspiration for the 2018 Ramblers.
“The 1963 team … transcended the game,” Custer said. “It was amazing that Coach Ireland recruited all those guys and brought them all to Rogers Park, and that team is an inspiration to us.”
The 1963 team should be celebrated. George Ireland and his team broke a barrier and that should be commended — the championship came at a critical time in the civil rights movement. Recently, Loyola head coach Porter Moser called the team a “watershed moment” in Loyola basketball history after the Ramblers won the MVC tournament.
But how can Loyola promote its — albeit significant — part in the civil rights movement, more than half a century ago, while it currently has a race problem on its own campus? How can Loyola promote its history when its own Campus Safety officers were roughing up minority students in the Damen Student Center?
In the last month, Loyola students have started a petition that received more than 1,500 signatures, held a walkout of more than 500 students and a town hall with more than 300 students in attendance. They’ve demanded action from the Loyola administration. At the town hall, students shared stories of being stopped and questioned by Campus Safety officers on campus, allegedly, because of their race.
Loyola’s role in the civil rights movement is now eclipsed if today its own students don’t feel safe on its campuses. Issues between minorities and police officers have been well documented in this country, and Loyola and its social justice mission should be working toward equality on a 21st century scale, not pointing to its 20th century success.
Loyola was once recognized for civil rights, but that doesn’t mean it stops there. Loyola’s due diligence and responsibility to its minority students can’t be pushed under the rug now. Diversity and equality are a constant battle and the school must be willing to go to bat for every one of its minority students on campus.
The 1963 Ramblers are heroes, but Loyola needs heroes for today. In response to the student pressure, Rooney announced in a statement the university would implement body cameras for its Campus Safety officers, an independent review task force and a “community policing curriculum.”
These are steps toward improvement, but more needs to be done. Loyola and its Campus Safety department need to work to improve the relationship between campus police officers and minority students. Loyola needs to be open and transparent with the footage from the new body cameras. Who will oversee the program? Will footage from the cameras be released to the public? The cameras are a good step, but it remains to be seen if they will provide actual change without oversight and transparency.
Loyola won’t be able to solve race problems in America with one decision, just like the 1963 Ramblers didn’t solve race problems with one game. But it’s up to Loyola to do more than refer to one event 55 years ago to prove it doesn’t have a problem today.