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IOWA CITY — With the dedication of Duke Slater Field scheduled for Iowa’s game against Penn State on Saturday, the Hawkeyes are set to join a small minority of college football programs to name football facilities after Black athletes.
The only stadium among the 65 Power Five programs to adorn the name of a Black person is Iowa State’s Jack Trice Stadium, as the New York Times first pointed out last year.
Specifically in the Big Ten, Iowa and Maryland are now the only Big Ten schools to have either its stadium, playing field or practice facility named after a Black person.
Maryland earlier in 2021 opened its new football training facility Jones-Hill House, which was named after the first Black football and basketball players at the school Darryl Hill and Billy Jones.
Before then, every Big Ten football stadium, playing field and practice facility name either was generic like Memorial Stadium or Spartan Stadium, resulted from a corporate naming rights deal or honored a white athlete, coach or donor.
“The history of race in America is a regular acknowledgment of anything that white people have done of significance, but it doesn’t really commensurate with people of color,” said Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
Iowa almost made this history a long time ago when Kinnick Stadium was renamed after previously being called Iowa Stadium.
In 1972, many fans pushed for the university to name the stadium after Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner who died in World War II.
The University of Iowa president at the time, Sandy Boyd, wanted to also recognize Slater by calling it Kinnick-Slater Stadium. Slater was an All-America tackle who later became a pioneer in the Chicago judicial system, recruited other Black athletes to Iowa and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
“He was, without exaggeration, one of the greatest football players who ever lived,” said Neal Rozendaal, who wrote a book in 2012 about Slater. “He was someone who used football to then go on and achieve even greater things in his life.”
Kinnick’s supporters weren’t a fan of Boyd’s idea, though.
“The Kinnick supporters who had worked a long time to put this into action, they weren’t happy with the idea of any compromise like that,” Rozendaal said.
Instead, Slater became the namesake for the newest residence hall.
Rozendaal said the naming of the residence hall was still a “really meaningful thing at the time.”
“When Slater played at Iowa, he wasn’t allowed to stay in the residence halls because of the color of his skin,” Rozendaal said. “Here he was 50 years later having an entire residence hall named in his honor.”
More people heard the story of the namesake of the football stadium than that of a residence hall, though.
“I’ve spoken with a number of people who lived in Slater Hall as a student and had no idea who Duke Slater was,” Rozendaal said.
Calls for adding Slater’s name to Kinnick Stadium came up again in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, allegations of racial misconduct by Iowa’s football staff and a national conversation about racial justice that followed.
That included a guest column by a University of Iowa alum in The Gazette calling for Kinnick Stadium to be renamed as Kinnick-Slater Stadium.
“Iowans decided to honor the life of a Heisman trophy winner and war hero,” Cole Gromus wrote in the column. “We decided not to equally honor the life of a great Black athlete, scholar, professional, and alumnus.”
Lapchick, from UCF, said he has noticed more attention toward Black pioneers across the sports landscape since last year’s racial reckoning.
“There’s definitely more awareness of the racial issue now and more willingness to do things that they wouldn’t have done before,” Lapchick told The Gazette.
Now with Duke Slater Field emblazoned in gold on the northwest and southeast corners of the field along the 25-yard lines, Rozendaal is optimistic about the impact of the "tremendous, fantastic gesture by the University of Iowa.”
“It is going to really get Duke Slater’s story discovered by people who might not have otherwise heard it,” Rozendaal said.
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