“By definition, nobody does first-generation better than FAMU,” he added. “It’s that nurturing, transformative environment that you’re in. It’s the ability to come to a school that has high academic standards and a classroom that’s small enough where you get the attention — where people can lay hands on you on a daily basis and say, ‘How are you? What’s going on? How are things at home?’ That’s the culture. We let it get away from us to become known as a ‘black university,’ but that’s so inaccurate, because by that definition, there should also be ‘white universities.’ …”Our forefathers did not get this one right. They screwed it up for us, and we’re still trying to fix it.” — Florida A&M University Athletic Director Kellen Winslow
There’s no better quote that sums up the arrival of Kellen Winslow at Florida A&M University. 80 percent of his tenure has been thoughtful, passionate concern for how to reverse engineer an apathetic fan base, dwindling revenues and low awareness in a huge sports town. And 20 percent, the portion that gets the wrong kind of attention seemingly ever other week, regularly sounds and reads like lines of dialogue cut from Denzel Washington ‘Training Day’ outtakes.
And perhaps that is what’s best for FAMU, instant name recognition with a little bluster, working together to buy the university time to regroup around its athletic mission, and to find audience with financiers who can make it happen. But it’s going to be difficult to watch over the next several weeks and months, because no one in Black college sports, AD, president, alumnus or otherwise, will be use to the kind of access to open mikes and open-ended questions as Winslow will have in a few short weeks.
FAMU and Winslow are very up front with what they are all about. FAMU, one of the strongholds of Black college culture, is a place where excellence, real, perceived or projected, is the rule. Athletics has lived outside of that mantra for nearly 10 years, and under new president Elmira Mangum, a public commitment to stronger athletics gave alumni and fans a positive sign that Rattler sports would soon reemerge as the pride of Tallahassee and pestilence upon the MEAC.
Winslow, regarded by many as the greatest tight end in professional football history, seems perfectly willing to spend much of his currency as a Hall of Famer and athletic brand on telling media and fans just how bad off FAMU sports is, and how badly it needs to be destroyed.
The Kellen-isms have yet to turn into dollars for FAMU sports thus far. In fact, some alumni and administrators have already grown weary of his ‘forgiveness > permission’ approach to sports management. In turn, Winslow probably feels that the system is so broken, most of the people closest to the program can’t be sure of what successful athletic building looks like, because they are the ones responsible for its current state of disrepair.
Both the institution and the administrator have to decide upon the right methodology in approaching the Rattler Reclamation Project. Are they out front and transparent, or introspective and methodical? Are they optimistic for incremental progress, or fast preparing to destroy and rebuild?
To be sure, both sides can quickly get on the same page about how the narrative on the FAMU sports comeback will be represented to media. And if Mangum and Winslow didn’t agree on timetables and realistic goals for the program, Winslow either would not have been hired, or would have been fired already.
The task of fixing FAMU sports can work with Mangum, Winslow and the Rattler faithful, but all sides have to not only appreciate, but embrace the perspectives, skills and passion of all sides involved. We in the media are going to revel every time Winslow gets in front of a microphone, because we know its going to make for good copy. That reality shouldn’t impact how everyone assesses the health of the relationship — yet.
But what it should do is make all Rattler alumni and supporters pay close attention and money to the program. Because without support and revenue, King Kong ain’t got nothing on Kellen Winslow’s mouth.