May 19, 2024

In an open letter published Monday, the NAACP urged Black college athletes to “reconsider any potential decision” to attend a public university in Florida following last week’s news that the University of Florida is eliminating its Diversity and Inclusion office.

The Gainesville university’s decision came in response to a law signed last year by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, which prohibits the state’s public universities from using state or federal dollars for diversity programs or activities. In a March 1 memo, the university announced it would eliminate 13 roles, including the chief diversity officer, and reallocate $5 million it was spending on DEI initiatives.

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Monday’s letter, signed by NAACP board chairman Leon W. Russell and president and CEO Derrick Johnson, is addressed to NCAA President Charlie Baker and current and prospective college athletes. It predicts that “while the University of Florida may be the first, it won’t be the last.”

Six public Florida universities — Florida, Florida State, Central Florida, South Florida, Florida Atlantic and Florida International — compete at the FBS level.

“Florida’s rampant anti-Black policies are a direct threat to the advancement of our young people and their ability to compete in a global economy,” Johnson said in a statement. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are paramount ensuring equitable and effective educational outcomes. The value Black, and other college athletes bring to large universities is unmatched. If these institutions are unable to completely invest in those athletes, it’s time they take their talents elsewhere.”

The NAACP letter mirrors the sentiment of former Gators great Emmitt Smith, who posted on March 3 he was “utterly disgusted by UF’s decision and the precedent it sets.”

In his statement, he said, “to the MANY minority athletes at UF, please be aware and vocal about this decision by the University who is now closing the doors on other minorities without any oversight.”

In the school’s memo announcing the elimination of the DEI office, officials wrote, “The University of Florida is — and will always be — unwavering in our commitment to universal human dignity.”

The NCAA and the Florida governor’s office each had not returned a message seeking comment at the time of publication. On the day the University of Florida announced it was shuttering the DEI office, DeSantis tweeted, “DEI is toxic and has no place in our public universities.”

(Photo: Miami Herald / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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