A group of 11 African-American student-athletes have filed a federal suit against Maricopa County Community College District officials, claiming racial bias over the termination of football teams on campuses.
The suit claims that terminating football violates the U.S. Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, alleging that the MCCCD Governing Board’s action was an act of racial discrimination.
“Sports is one of those industries that helps students achieve. Not only in the sport, but in academia and their professional life,” attorney Phillip A. Austin said during a press conference at his Mesa office Thursday. “This decision has done two things: it’s created an obstacle for these students to achieve that goal but it has also violated their civil rights.”
Austin represents the group, which includes former East Valley high school athletes Darius Glover, Gerald Wilbon, Robert Jordan and Andre Adams, who signed to play football at a Maricopa County community college.
Some of the 11 plaintiffs at the press conference described how eliminating football negatively impacts their education and life.
“It broke my heart,” said Andre Adams, a freshman defensive back for Phoenix College. “I was just thinking what I would do next. I was nervous.”
Adams, a 2018 graduate of Mountain Pointe High, took the juco route in order to try and move onto a four-year university or beyond. He accepted a scholarship offer to play for Phoenix College, putting his plan in motion. However, the end of the football program left him wondering what he would do next.
Football has always been his outlet, a way to take his mind off of any problems he experienced growing up. Beyond that, he says the game has made him into a better student and man.
“Football is everything, it provides an escape,” Adams said. “It has guided me to make the right decisions and to be a better role model. Football will make you have good grades, it teaches you discipline.”
Like Adams, Darius Glover, a 2018 graduate of Skyline High in Mesa, considered MCC a stepping stone to get better in the classroom and continue his playing career.
Glover moved to the Valley with his family from Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He quickly found football as an outlet for possibly being able to give back to his family for their support in a time of crisis.
“I don’t play football for me, I do it for my mom and my family,” said Darius Glover, a freshman defensive back at Mesa Community College. “I go to school and want to play football for them. Being at MCC has created a lot of opportunities for me and has made me into a better person.”
However, a shoulder injury cut his season short. But that didn’t stop the coaches from pushing him off the field to continue working on his grades.
“Coach (Ryan) Felker would always ask me how my grades are and everything,” Glover said. “He kept me in check even when I was hurt. I had the best grades I ever had.”
Signing to play at a community college gave each hope of continuing his education and eventually playing at a four-year university. They claim that terminating football programs diminishes those opportunities.
“They didn’t consider the fact that many of the football players transfer out to four-year institutions to play,” Austin said.
The MCCCD board announced termination of junior college football in February 2018. The announcement left players and coaching staffs at Scottsdale, Mesa and Glendale Community and Phoenix College questioning their future going into the final season of play, which ended in November.
Rosters for the four teams this past season contained 306 total players.
A few months after the Maricopa County schools’ announcement, Pima Community College in Tucson, Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher and Arizona Western in Yuma announced that 2018 also would be the final season for their football program, as well. Without Valley teams to play, there were none to schedule close enough to make continuation of those programs cost effective.
The players’ lawsuit against MCCCD claims that adequate information was not presented to support the board’s termination decision as cost effective.
Part of that includes an estimated $20 million in renovations to facilities in order to adequately house the football program. However, Austin said the board has not presented any adequate evidence to support that claim.
Instead, he says emails from board members Jean McGrath and Johanna Haver, as well as other documentation the lawsuit, show the decision was “prompted by political and racial animus.”
“We have emails from McGrath and Haver where they have indicated a racial animus against Muslim, black and Latino student programs,” Austin said. “However, without a thought of the consequence, they decided to end these programs.”
Austin explained the MCCD Governing Board negatively affects other African-Americans within the district at a rate 10 times that of non-African-American students.
“This kind of disparity cannot stand, and it’s illegal,” Austin added. “This lawsuit is demanding that the governing board of the Maricopa County Community College District reverse its decision and reinstate the football program”
Other efforts to save juco football in the Valley are gaining traction.
The Athletic Advancement Association of America, a non-profit foundation founded in Arizona, recently announced creation of the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference, which would field four teams in the Valley. All would be privately funded.
Athletes on each team would be required to enroll in a local community college and fulfill the classes required to obtain an Associate of Arts degree in order to remain eligible to play.
A call to the Athletic Advancement Association of America for comment was not returned.
Despite creation of the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference, Austin and the 11 student-athletes in the lawsuit still want to see MCCCD’s decision reversed.
“They got rid of all Maricopa teams and we all came together. It’s a brotherhood,” Adams said. “Just take a look at us, we don’t want to do any harm. Education is important to us, and football is too.”