(The Daily Advertiser) – Jim Harris has heard the furor.
As executive director of the Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Foundation (RCAF), fund-raising arm for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s athletic department, he knows some supporters are upset over controversial and profane football locker room video drawing national attention.
He’s fielded phone calls. He’s read text messages and emails.
He’s knows some have threatened to withdraw donations, and that others will consider doing the same if things don’t change.
Harris also understands the intensity and source of their sentiments.
Words, and actions, do matter, the fund-raiser suggests.
“In this case,” he said, “I did hear from a lot of people on Friday … just because this happened to be a topic that the timing was really relevant with what was happening in the country, so it was very much at the forefront.”
The cellphone video-gone-viral shows Ragin’ Cajun players dancing, singing along and making obscene gestures as the protest song FDT (F— Donald Trump) by rap artists YG and Nipsey Hussle blasts throughout the team’s locker room.
It was taken after practice last Tuesday, hours before Trump was elected President of the United States.
By Friday afternoon, one day after the 4-5 team’s 33-26 road victory at Georgia Southern, stories on the video and UL coach Mark Hudspeth’s reaction to it were popping up on national college football websites from ESPN’s and Sports Illustrated’s to numerous others.
“When it’s something actually like a video – it’s more than words; it’s actually something people can see – that’s gonna stir up more emotions in people,” Harris said.
“And when people feel emotion, they tend to let that emotion out in the moment.
“It’s delicate,” Harris added. “I get it.”
Harris said some donors he spoke with were RCAF Board of Directors members he communicates with regularly anyway.
Among the dozen or so others were concerned boosters, some of whom did threaten to withdraw financial support.
Harris wasn’t sure if anyone actually had stepped away from their financial pledges.
The school remains in the silent phase of a capital campaign to support its athletics facilities masterplan.
“I did hear from some people Friday,” the RCAF director said.
“But it wasn’t hearing from people necessarily saying, ‘I don’t want to make donations anymore.’ ”
Others did say as much, though.
“There’s a group of people that were offended by it,” Harris said.
“There’s a group of people that probably thought this isn’t what our football program stands for, or our university stands for.
“But … most of the people I talked to,” he added, “just wanted to know that the university and the administration and the coaches were making the proper steps to make sure the kids learn from this, and it doesn’t happen again.”
No one seen in the video was suspended, or missed playing time. But Hudspeth said four unidentified players had been disciplined.
Harris considers the emotions of those who aren’t pleased “justified.”
“There were a few that might have had a kneejerk reaction and (said), ‘This isn’t what I want to support,’ ” he said.
“I would also encourage those people to realize we are the Ragin’ Cajun family here. There are some football players that know they made a mistake. There’s a coach that apologized for some of his comments.
“But … I would encourage people to take a step back,” Harris added, “and … use that as a learning lesson for our young men rather than to beat them up over it.”
Some donors were equally, if not more, upset with some of Hudspeth’s words.
He’s made it clear he doesn’t condone such behavior.
But Hudspeth initially said, “It’s also disappointing that so many people have vilified a few 19-year-olds making some immature decisions, and then they were the same ones that voted for someone that has done much worse by grabbing a female in the private areas …”
Hudspeth later issued a statement saying he regrets “my response to a reporter’s question after … that may have offended some voters.”
Harris feels Hudspeth’s comments may have stemmed from “emotion too.”
“I think the parental side in the coaching staff comes out in these types of instances,” Harris said. “So I think there probably was some emotion that came out in trying to justify, or trying to protect our players.”
Over the weekend, Cajun loyalists continued to passionately weigh how the video and its fallout would impact their support of the program.
UL alum Josh Jagneaux, a donor and diehard fan, called Hudspeth’s comments “an outrage.”
“I don’t necessarily think they’re a bad group of kids,” said Jagneaux, who has longstanding issues with Hudspeth.
“I’m just saying when something like this gets out, you can’t blame the donors. You can’t call people hypocrites. You know, this institution has had a very tenuous relationship with donors – probably for the last 40, 50 years. You can’t say things like that.”
Jagneaux said he will “not pull support” for UL’s baseball program or its general athletics fund, partly because of his faith in Harris.
But he also suggested that because of a “mixture” of the video controversy and other grievances he “will not continue to give specifically to football.”
He’s upset, among various reasons, that “the man (Hudspeth) will not take any blame” for the program’s various off-field and on-field problems the past couple years.
At least two other players were suspended for disciplinary reasons this season, defensive coordinator Melvin Smith was fired after a season-opening loss and UL recently received NCAA sanctions for a recruiting-related scandal.
“I don’t necessarily believe we’re going in the right direction with how we’re running the football program,” Jagneaux said.
Another Cajun super-fan, Jesse Lanclos, sits on a different side.
“I don’t think anything he (Hudspeth) said in the paper is offensive at all,” Lanclos said. “I think it was all straight on, it was all legit. I don’t think he excused their behavior.
“If we were 8-1 right now, I think people would be having a different reaction about this.
“The behavior is not what should be happening at the University of Louisiana,” he added, “but Hud said he took care of it and I believe him.”
Lanclos does have an issue with what he said are some Cajun players supposedly not appreciating their fans enough
The alum and self-described “average-level” donor initially suggested via social media that his program support was in jeopardy, but he’s since reconsidered.
“Obviously when you get in the heat of a discussion,” Lanclos said, “at least some people like myself kind of say things they don’t mean. … I believe Hud is trying to run a respectable program.
“I supported this team when they were utterly terrible – far more terrible than they are now. … I’m always gonna support this team, no matter what I say on Twitter.”
Harris urged all other angry Cajun fans “to keep perspective on the entire situation.”
As those in both camps wrestled with conflicting feelings on the controversy, including some who didn’t want to talk publicly for fear of ruffling feathers or saying something wrong, Jay Miller pursued a path of reconciliation.
He’s the father of five boys including UL football player Sterling Miller, pastor of The Family Church and president of Lafayette Christian Academy.
Miller planned to present to deliver a message of “mercy and grace” to his congregation on Sunday morning.
“I watched the video, like many people, several different times,” he said. “It was a handful of kids. And I don’t believe that was the sentiment of the entire locker room. So to judge an entire program on the actions of a few – I just don’t think it’s fair.
“I believe Coach Hud and his staff will assess this, and I think they’ll implement some things that will be better for the coaches, better for the fans and better for the players in the long run. So I wish him the best. My thoughts are words of healing and peace.
“I think what our entire nation needs at this point,” the preacher added, “is words of peace and healing.”