One has to shudder at the audacity of Butch Beard in attempting to embarrass the University of Louisville on racial issues. The former UofL player claiming there is a lack of acknowledgement to the legacy of black players and to a commitment in diversity hiring. The claims could not be more misguided, reflecting the vexations of a former athlete.

For some reason, he has written a letter to President Neeli Bendapudi requesting that the school “remove my name and accomplishments from any existing or future mention.” Claiming that Louisville basketball never had any national recognition until it signed Wes Unseld and himself in the mid-Sixties. Ignoring the fact that UofL won the then-prestigious National Invitation Tournament in 1955-56 and ranked sixth in the final Associated Press poll.  Louisville also had made the NCAA’s Sweet 16 three times, including a Final Four appearance in 1959.

If that is what he really wants, the University should honor his request, removing any previous attempts to honor Beard. UofL can not, however erase his name from the record books. Facts are facts, folly is folly. 

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Beard, who was at UofL from 1965 to 1969, had a good career, ranking 17th in scoring at Louisville with 1,583 points. He was the ninth pick in the 1969 NBA draft, playing with the Atlanta Hawks for nine seasons. He played with Wes Unseld, who was a first-teamer on the Associated Press’ All-American team in 1968-69. Beard earned third team honors. His honored uniform hangs prominently above Denny Crum Court. They are in the Hall of Fame as well.

Beard complains, however, in the letter to Bendapudi that the “university refuses to recognize someone like Wes Unseld whose shoulders every player stands on today.” Yes, that Unseld, honored with a life-size figure in the HOF exhibit at the KFC Yum! Center. Forgive us, but it is uncertain whether additional recognition was actually sought for Unseld. He was a popular player and fans would naturally support it.

Beard doesn’t mention any other black players. How about Darrell Griffith who promised and delivered on that promise to bring a national championship to UofL? Or Wade Houston, whose name was on a tournament that tipped off this season. Or how about Junior Bridgeman, who took his team to a Final Four in 1974-75 and went on to become Chairman of the UofL Board of Trustees?

One suspects that one reason Beard is still resentful because he was not among the candidates to succeed Coach Rick Pitino at UofL. Neither was Beard’s close fiend Jerry Eaves, who played on the 1980 championship team and is a frequent critic of UofL on his radio talk show.  Beard told WDRB’s Rick Bozich last year, ““You’ve got a big problem in college basketball right now,” he said. “A big problem … I will be dead before they even consider a black guy for that job (at UofL) in basketball.”

Last season, blacks held 17.3% of the 75 head jobs at the Power Six programs in the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East and Pac-12 conferences. Regardless, Beard didn’t deserve serious consideration at Uofl, not based on his record. Five years after taking over the Morgan State basketball program, he resigned with a 39-105 won-lost record. His overall record, which included a stint at Howard University (where he was 45-69), was 84-174.

Thankfully, Louisville went after the best coaching candidates available and was successful in hiring a proven winner. 

Beard’s letter to Bendapudi will get him some attention, coming at time when the University is seeking to recover from years of drama and restore its financial well-being in the midst of global pandemic. The temptation for some would be to ignore the letter, but that’s not possible these days. The easiest course would be to grant him his wish, removing any tangible reminders of his time there. But that’s not likely either, probably evoking more bad feelings. 

The truth is that UofL  is in the forefront on race issues, actually pursuing an “anti-racism” agenda, and is more diverse than the majority of power conference schools. The fewer distractions the better for Neeli Bendapudi in pursuing her agenda. Constructive suggestions are welcome in the suggestion box. Tunnel-vision posturing is divisive and not helpful.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

5 thoughts on “Maybe UofL should grant Butch Beard’s wishes”
  1. I am sixty seven years old and had the opportunity to witness first hand the on court efforts of both Mr. Beard and Mr. Unseld. I thrilled to their efforts then and can not forget certain moments of each of their careers even now. If he asks me to forget, I can not. I fail to see the benefit of such memory holing. Purpose served? Air ball, in my opinion.
    I have often wondered during the last fifty years why they, Mr. Beard and Mr. Unseld, were not back at the school more, why they were not more vocal promoters of their college team. Why we weren’t the beneficiaries of their personalities more often after graduation. I wondered, but I did not accuse, I accepted that they had their lives to live and I had no right to expect. I would have liked to see them around more, but it wasn’t my place to decide how they used their time. Now, Butch Beard makes me wonder if he regrets a lost opportunity to mentor. Not my place to accuse. He would have been welcome. Not too late. I would welcome more direct involvement by Butch Beard and any other former Cardinal interested in promoting the welfare of the University, the students, and school’s programs.
    Over the years, when former players tried their hand at coaching I held out hope that one of them would excel and one day be the Head Coach, whether at Uof L or elsewhere. Mr. Beard, Mr. Unseld , Tony Branch, Jerry Eaves, Kenny Payne, Wade Houston. I’ve pulled for all of them as coaches. [I am no doubt forgetting others, my apologies]. Unfortunately, none have put together a career to match that of the Coaches the school has hired, thus far. It is a competitive business, and UofL has been favored to have had basketball coaches who stay around and succeed for a long time, so the job has seldom been open. I believe in the man holding the job now, as a coach, and as a good man. I’d like to see him stay around a long time too. I see in him a winner for the young men on the team and for the team/school/college basketball. Let’s hope Mr. Beard agrees.
    Ls up.

  2. It would be nice if Butch were to agree but his latest expressions appear to reflect the thoughts of someone with a long-held grudge for whatever reason. I have no idea what he expects from UofL when it comes to supporting kids after their playing days. Most of us are expected to make it on our own after college, becoming faithful alumni, and supporting the school where we earned degrees. Maybe he confuses UofL with some other schools that pre-plan creative benefits for players after their playing days. If so, he made the wrong “business decision” a long time ago.

  3. Both the article and Mr Jones’ response are spot on.

    There has been no shortage of diversity at UofL over the years and the only black college coach that possibly could’ve been a candidate at the time was Shaka Smart.

    Sone say Payne deserved a look but UofL is a top ten program in the history of college basketball and should never hire an unproven assistant unless he’s on staff already and gets a promotion.

    This screams like a “look at me” type thing or sour grapes.

  4. If I may, I’d also like to remind that Kenny Payne would not have a job as a coach had not the University of Louisville offered to allow him, and I believe all former players (?), the opportunity come back and complete their education there. As I recall the University of Kentucky was refusing to hire a coach unless he had a college degree. And, being the great institution we know it to be, the U of L stepped up and found a solution for a former player/student who left without finishing. Why did U of L do this? Because they care about people.

  5. Thanks for the reminder, Rick. I had forgotten about that. Some folks were pushing for Payne to fill the coaching vacancy. But the questionable recruiting practices of the Kentucky program made that a no-go from the start.

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