On the eve of West Virginia Universitys home game with Syracuse, officials spoke about the inaccurate and unfair portrayal of the state and WVU fans in todays national release of the motion picture,The Express.
The story about legendary Syracuse University athlete Ernie Davis, the first black athlete to win a Heisman Trophy, depicts the integration of black athletes in sports in the 1950s and60s. Davis played for the Orangemen from 1957-61 but died of leukemia two years later.
While an important sports story during a time of racial tension in America, the film portrays WVU fans, the team and the coach in an unfavorable lightsuch as shouting racial slurs and obscenities at the team and throwing objects onto the playing field.
According to reports from former players and fans, this is simply untrue; it never happened. Even former Syracuse quarterback in the Davis years, Dick Easterly, saidthe scene is completely fictitious,and Gov. Joe Manchin commented yesterday that the movie should be re-labeled afictional movienot a true movieand called on the studio to issue an apology.
Gov. Manchin is right,said interim WVU President C. Peter Magrath.The depiction of WVU in this movie is nonsense.
He added,Diversity is an essential characteristic of a 21st-century land-grant university, and WVU consistently works to enhance its commitment to diversity.
Vice President for Student Affairs Ken Gray said WVU s status as a land-grant institution, with nationally recognized Division I athletic programs,has a long history of providing opportunities for success for students and student-athletes from across the country and around the worldfrom every background and every walk of life.
While the movie is meant to be a true story about Davislife, the films producers took great liberties with the story line, officials say.
In fact, in the year this night game was portrayed as having been played (1959), WVU did not play the Orangemen in Morgantown, and there were no night games at old Mountaineer Field.
More importantly, in the following season, when Davis and the team did play a game in Morgantown, nothing like the scene in the movie occurred.
According to Dean Dana Brooks, a historian on the early integration of sports, West Virginia and WVU have a rich history of being proactive in terms of desegregation and promoting social justice.
Numerous African-American athletic pioneers at WVU during the early 1960s and70s would say their degree permitted them to achieve a personal level of success. Despite all issues associated with racism and discrimination on and off campus, these athletes endured. In the final analysis, the African-American student-athletes valued their educational experiences on campus.
This weekend, Garrett Ford, WVU s associate director of athletics and an outstanding running back for WVU in the mid-1960s, is being honored as Homecoming parade marshal. He too is offended by the characterization in the movie, saying while these were difficult times in America, he and other black student-athletes would not have stayed in Morgantown if there were not many wonderful people and positive experiences.