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.
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.