Montana State University, Football, Drug Arrests, Sports Illustrated, Racism. These are a few of the topics in full discussion here in Bozeman after the recent article in Sports Illustrated. The following article is a column written in response to the heated conversation that continues in Bozeman.
When one of the largest circulated magazines in the nation released an article detailing the criminal history plaguing the MSU Athletics department, “Sports Illustrated” writer George Durhamm trained the spotlight on the monoculture, white community that Montana State University calls home.
After the story, “Trouble in Paradise,” was published in early August, Belgrade’s Ashley Kroon found herself in the middle of the fray. “It’s ironic,” she said. “A lot of people have chosen me to make a racist, which isn’t true.” Local sports columnist, Jeff Welsch, responded to the SI piece by writing, “Ashley N. Kroon is having her five minutes of fame. Five seconds would’ve sufficed, thank you.”
At first blush, it seems, most community members would agree. But the relentless front-page, above-the-fold mug shots of African-American suspected athletes in the local news media, followed by coverage on a national platform, forces the question: Is race really the issue here?
In one of Kroon’s letters to “The Bozeman Daily Chronicle” she wrote, “They’re destroying the quality of life and general peace of mind in my hometown. It’s abhorrent that MSU recruits violent criminals, often offering them scholarships no less (full-ride in cases of John LeBrum and Brandon Miller [two former MSU athletes facing murder charges], to come here and play ball and kill the peace.”
Kroon’s observation, along with the media’s hype of the issue, seems to place the blame for the alleged wave of crime on primarily black men from California and Florida. But crime is no stranger to Bozeman, and it isn’t exclusive to black MSU athletes.
Most recently, in 2006, eight freshmen were arrested for distributing drugs ranging from marijuana to cocaine. According to national statistics, Bozeman has had an average rate of 299 violent crimes per 100,000 people from 2000-2005 with high numbers of aggravated assault and forcible rape.
No matter who the perpetrators are, the question persists: Who is to blame and what is the root cause of these violent, drug-related crimes centralized around black male athletes? Is it possible the real question is what didn’t we do to help prevent them?
As a predominantly white community, it is critical that Bozeman recognizes that as individuals, we are bound to a “fundamentalist white orientation.” We live, work, and play with other whites, almost exclusively. As a community, we may be well intentioned, but in the end, could it be that we are uninformed and unexposed to racial and ethnic diversity in any real sense?
With only a solitary, white frame of reference, it is difficult to intellectually or emotionally grasp the hardships faced by different ethnic or racial groups.
It is undeniable that minorities, in any community, face barriers and shortfalls in available resources and support. In this world, filled with systemic and institutional racism (no matter the race or ethnicity), success both personally and academically, for many, is a difficult goal to attain.
This becomes more of a reality for many, when support systems that are non-existent and a community does not actively engage or encourage success off the field or basketball course.
Consider this: As the community has grown and changed, we have faced heretofore-unseen challenges. When Kevin McGuire ran for public office on the white-supremacist National Alliance platform in 2004, Bozeman stood up and reinvigorated the Gallatin Human Rights Task Force, widely condemning racial discrimination.
When McGuire sought a seat on the local school board, Bozeman saw the highest voter turnout in 21 years and defeated his candidacy with a landslide of 3,882 votes to his 157 votes.
This stands as testimony that the Bozeman community is not one to shy away from the fight for racial and ethnic tolerance. Yet this community response does not seem to be commonplace.
There exists a dramatic contrast between the community’s reaction to McGuire and the National Alliance, to the sharp spike of anti-Hispanic immigrants sentiments seen on the editorial page of “The Bozeman Daily Chronicle” earlier this year.
This is only one recent example, that when coupled with the community’s tacit endorsement of African American athletes as felons, murderers, and drug ring leaders forces the question, once again: Is race really the underlying issue?
In one of Kroon’s letters to “The Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” she wrote, “Shame on us as a community for not being more outspoken, for not holding the school accountable long ago.” I would argue: Shame on us as a community for not being more outspoken, for not holding ourselves as community members accountable long ago.
The “Sports Illustrated” article concluded with, Kroon’s “feelings, which is to say the feelings of many in Bozeman, aren’t likely to change soon.”
I challenge the Bozeman and MSU community to move forward from this stark place in local history carrying the hope of appropriate adaptation to the growing size of Bozeman and the Northern Rockies region; acknowledging the necessity for a more informed and racially and ethnically sensitive community.
The ASMSU Exponent prints approximately 5,000 copies every Thursday and is free of charge at nearly 65 locations. Introduced in 1895, The ASMSU Exponent is the oldest college newspaper in the state of Montana. Originally introduced as “a way to increase college spirit at Montana State…exponentially.” The 2007-2008 academic year marks its 112th year of publication. Contact the Editor at: 994-2224 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.