Bo Schembechler, the greatest sports figure in University of Michigan history passed away two days ago, before Michigan (#2) plays Ohio State (#1) in the 104th version of the greatest rivalry in college sports.
Black students in general have the same sentiment towards the University of Michigan when the are there, as black people have about the United States. I know that I didn’t start to proudly claim Michigan until sometime in grad school, when I realized that the things that were most important to me in life (my wife, my children, my fraternity, my graduate pursuits) couldn’t have been attained had I gone anywhere else. And also when I realized how much blood sweat and tears me and my boys put into making the school a better place.
Bo was part of the problem here. He kept black players segregated from the rest of the black student community. Those few black players who did decide to pledge a black fraternity had to do so without his knowledge.
But at the same time Bo was reason many of us wanted to be down in the first place–what did I know about an “academic reputation” in the seventh grade? Black students felt good when Michigan won (and were pissed when Michigan State would beat them) just like everyone else. Many of us had neither the money nor the inclination to buy tickets to see the games in person. But we’d be huddled around the tv watching Desmond Howard, Leroy Hoard, Demetrius Williams, Derrick Alexander, Shonte Peoples, and dozens of other players great and not so great, go to work.
I had the opportunity to meet Bo once. One of my older fraternity brothers and I were staying in the hospital for an experiment we participated in. Bo happened to be in a connecting room with his first wife Millie (who was ill). My fraternity brother and I gave him his space, because we were cognizant of why he was there (his wife Millie passed away sometime within the next few years because of her illness). But we talked to him a little, and the others in our experimental cell JOCKED him. What I recognized about him was that he was good people. He could’ve shut the room off from the (well-meaning) knuckleheads that crowded him and his wife. He could have because he had the clout. He could have because he had the right. But he never did.
To say he will be missed–even given his (likely) politics–is an understatement. I likely would have made a very different choice had he not made such a mark on Michigan.