Winston, We Have A Problem: Giving Up Naming Rights Bad Idea For WSSU

Winston-Salem State University is currently awaiting a vote on its bid to buy Bowman Gray Stadium.

Over the past two seasons, Winston-Salem State University has received accolades galore as a result of the success of its football team. The Rams were named Black College National champions in both those seasons, and finished as Division II national runner up in 2012. The university has been trying to purchase the Bowman Gray Stadium, WSSU’s home field, from the city of Winston-Salem for over a decade. After several attempts, the two sides have finally reached an agreement, which the City Council is set to vote on May 20. 

On the surface, it would appear that all was good and everybody gets what they want.

Not so fast, my friends.

It appears that part of the agreement between the University and the city is that WSSU is not allowed to re-name the stadium, currently named after former CEO of RJ Reynolds Corporation. Meanwhile, the city has agreed to allow Wake Forest University to change the name of Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, named after a Winston native who was the first medic to receive a Medal of Honor during the Vietnam Conflict.

My initial reaction was outrage against the City of Winston-Salem. Allowing a predominately white university to take remove the name of a city hero who happens to be black, while simultaneously restricting a predominately black institution from removing the name of a white businessman smacks of insensitivity at best and screams inequality at the worst. The city knew that gathering $8 million for Wake Forest would be much easier than coming up with $4.3 million for Winston-Salem State, and they are obviously taking advantage of that.

Then, my cynicism turned toward the University for agreeing to such terms. The administration is right to pursue buying the stadium, which should have been done a long time ago. But the short-sighted nature of their agreement is deeply disappointing. Naming rights are vital to the university’s ability to profit off of its success. If the school continues to build itself as a football power house, corporations will take note and it leaves the possibility of sponsorships open. WSSU needs to look no further than across US-52 at Wake Forest’s BB&T Stadium to see the possibilities. And Wake Forest has never won anything in football. Or basketball for that matter.

Even if corporate sponsorship doesn’t happen, the right to name the stadium whatever it pleases should have been non-negotiable from the start.

The university has already agreed to allow stock car races to continue and to honor the 20 year lease between the city and the entity that controls racing at the stadium. So basically the school can’t name a stadium that it owns, that it paid its money for, and it has to share it with an outside party while it picks up the expense of upkeep, which the city has maintained until this point. Pretty clear who the winner is on that front.

And finally, as an alum of the university, I came to the realization that we, along with current students have to be active on issues like this. It’s not just signing a petition and marching, however. HBCU alumni need to be continually active in terms of giving to their school and building strong alumni channels. Granted, not all HBCUs are equal and some alumni associations are stronger than others, but we can all do better. As much as we talk black and white, green is the color that matters most at times like these. Without strong organization with economic backing, our universities will continue to have to scrape and scrap to make any kind of headway in today’s world.

Hopefully, Winston-Salem State alumni, students and supporters will get together and pressure the city and the university to drop the naming rights portion of the agreement. But even if that doesn’t happen, perhaps this will serve as a cautionary example of why there needs to be power beyond boycotting and marching, not just at Winston-Salem State, but across the HBCU spectrum.



  1. lgura

    May 10, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Well thought-out argument and nicely expressed, Steven.

  2. HBCU Gameday

    May 10, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks a lot, Les. I'd like to think you guys helped out a lot with that!

  3. Phyllis Darden

    June 26, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I just read this article. What was the outcome?

  4. HBCU Gameday

    June 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Hi Ms. Darden,

    The sale has yet to be finalized, but there have been no reports that this stipulation has been renegotiated.

    Thanks for reading!

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