Kinnick Stadium is one of Iowa’s greatest treasures. It is also one of the greatest tragedies in our journey toward racial equality and social justice in the state.
When it was first proposed, Kinnick Stadium was supposed to be named Kinnick-Slater Stadium.
Kinnick is in honor of Nile Kinnick, a Hawkeye football player and 1939 Heisman winner. Duke Slater was a two time All-American at the University of Iowa, a seven time NFL All-Pro, and inaugural member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on September 16, 2020. Duke Slater was a black man. Nile Kinnick was white.
In his book “Duke Slater,” Neal Rozendaal tells the story about renaming the stadium in 1972. Willard “Sandy” Boyd, the president of the University, proposed “Kinnick-Slater Stadium” as the new name for Iowa Stadium to honor two of our greats.
The proposal didn’t go over well. Rozendaal describes a stalemate between University President William Boyd and Gazette sports editor and columnist Gus Schrader. Boyd was for the dual name, Schrader against. Ivor W. Stanley, an Iowa House Republican, suggested a compromise — name a residence hall after Slater and the stadium after Kinnick.
The rest is history. An iconic college football stadium is named after Nile Kinnick. A college dormitory is named after Duke Slater. Most of us don’t even know why.
Iowans decided to honor the life of a Heisman trophy winner and war hero. We decided not to equally honor the life of a great Black athlete, scholar, professional, and alumnus. One who deserved to share the name of the stadium with Nile Kinnick.
When Iowa State named the field at Cyclone Stadium after Jack Trice in 1975, they became the first Division 1-A university to name a football stadium after an African-American in 1997. Iowa State chose to honor their first African-American hero, why are we so shy to do the same?
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Nile Kinnick himself was deeply concerned about civil rights in our country. Kinnick wrote in his journal:
“We supposedly are fighting this war to obliterate the malignant idea of racial supremacy and master-slave relationships. When this war is over, the problem is apt to be more difficult than ever. May wisdom, justice, brotherly love guide our steps to the right direction.”
Honoring Duke Slater is honoring the very dream Nile Kinnick fought and died for.
Hayden Fry embraced social justice and reform when it was widely unacceptable to do so. A man who passed at age 90, universally revered and respected, had his life threatened in the 1960s to defend this cause.
All of us are left to carry Kinnick and Fry’s torch of social justice reform. As a University, we have rallied behind so many others who deserve dignity and support. We’ve honored farmers, troops, troops and children? How can we show the same level of support for current and former Black student-athletes, coaches, faculty, fans and members of the community?
What would it take to get Duke Slater added to the name of the stadium before the start of the season?
Dr. Boyd is 93. What would it take to allow him to see the change he so courageously asked for?
What would it take to start the process of healing 50 years of injustice?
Six letters. S-L-A-T-E-R.
Changing the stadium’s name can’t change the past. However, it can make a statement about our identity as a university, community and fans going forward.
We’ve talked about making change as individuals and as a team. This is what change looks like. We have another chance to do the right thing now. Let’s not make the same mistake again.
We need to do this before the start of the season. We have less than 90 days. Let’s get it done.
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Cole Grolmus (Tippie BBA07) is the co-founder of Soulwork, a technology startup in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Correction: The Gus Schrader was previously misidentified as the racecar driver. While there was a Gus Schrader who was a racecar driver and beloved sports figure in Iowa, this is not him.