LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — As a group of University of Kentucky faculty members calls for the school to remove Adolph Rupp's name from the arena, a spirited debate has broken out across the Commonwealth.
Those who knew Rupp best, or studied his career, will tell you that he didn't go into that National Championship game against Texas Western with a roster of all white players by design.
"Before I got there in 1965, he worked really hard to recruit (Wes) Unseld, Butch Beard," said Joe B. Hall from his home in Lexington.
Hall spent a season as Rupp's assistant before taking the head coaching job at Kentucky, where he'd go on to win one of Kentucky's eight national championships. He said Rupp implored him to recruit African American players, not the opposite.
But just because he had the directive didn't mean it was going to happen back then. Racism was rampant in the South, making it difficult to attract talented Black players.
"How can you look a parent in the eye, back in the 1960s, and guarantee the safety of a young African American playing basketball for you in the South?" wondered Alan Cutler.
Cutler, the retired Sports Director at LEX 18, did a lot of research on Rupp. Many of his findings will be included in his book "Cut to the Chase" which is due out in September. He told one story about being invited to Rupp's son's home and finding letters that had been turned over to the FBI.
"All of these letters threatening Adolph Rupp if he would dare recruit an African American player in the 1950s," Cutler said of what he read.
Cutler said Rupp was a lot of things; cantankerous, selfish, hard to deal with, but calling him racist may not be fair and is ultimately for others to decide, after doing their research.
"Thomas Payne, when we did that interview with him in jail, said Rupp wasn't racist," Cutler added.
Payne was the first African American player Rupp successfully recruited to Kentucky. He's Lexington's Jackie Robinson for lack of a better example. A few months before his release from prison, LEX 18 spoke with him once again.
"I know Coach Rupp by one thing," Payne said that day. "His courage to start me with all the controversy at the time."
Just because a few people say Rupp wasn't racist, doesn't mean there isn't some truth to the faculty members' claim. But if the arena's owner is going to consider, or act on, the request, it's only fair to examine what may have contributed to the apparent lack of inclusion. Especially as removal of his name, would forever tarnish a reputation Rupp is no longer here to defend.
"I can't see any reason to take Coach Rupp's name off that building," Hall concluded.