Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball great Butch Beard talks with university president about race, hires after name removal request

Butch Beard, one of the greatest players in Louisville basketball history, said he had a “nice” conversation with university president Neeli Bendapudi on Thursday after asking the school this week to strip his name from its records, citing concerns about the athletic department’s hiring practices and its failure to acknowledge former Black players.

“I think there were a number of issues that were brought up that she’s more aware of now than she was,” Beard said.

However, Beard said he still wants his name removed “until I see change.”

In a letter to Bendapudi on Wednesday, the former Louisville standout and NBA All-Star and champion said the school needed more Black coaches to serve as role models for its student-athletes.

“The university has been remiss and negligent in its hiring practices within the athletic department,” Beard, a former college and NBA head coach, wrote in the letter obtained by ESPN. “No black role models exist for the student athletes playing men’s basketball or football. You may think assistant coaches in these sports are sufficient. They are not. Players need and want head coaches to confide in on real life issues on and off the court. Respect comes from the top: the head coach.

“I speak from the experience I have had as that role model at two HBCU schools. I saw first generation black kids attend college and witnessed the type of guidance that’s necessary. Not every black kid playing a sport has the promise or should have the promise of going professional. Many times this is the false narrative when the real goal should be getting an education. Without relatable guidance from a person who looks like you and has traveled this road, this imperative can be lost.”

Both Charlie Strong and Ron Cooper have been Black head coaches for Louisville’s football program. Chris Mack is the third head coach in the men’s basketball program since Denny Crum was hired in 1971. All three have been white.

“I deeply appreciate the heartfelt letter from Mr. Beard,” Bendapudi said in a statement released prior to her conversation with Beard on Thursday. “He is a Cardinal legend and will always be remembered for his many accomplishments on the court and in the classroom. Mr. Beard rightly points out that in the past, the university may not have always lived up to its responsibility to provide an equal opportunity to Black candidates seeking jobs at the highest levels of our athletic department.

“I can say with total confidence that [athletic director Vince Tyra] and I are committed to changing that narrative. Our goal is for the University of Louisville to achieve its full potential as an antiracist university. That means that no job candidate should ever have an advantage (or disadvantage) during the hiring process based on their race.”

One complaint Beard had in his letter centered on what he called the school’s failure to properly acknowledge former star Wes Unseld, Beard’s roommate during their time at Louisville in the 1960s when they were two of the first African-American players in school history. His letter said the school had done a disservice to its Black athletes by not doing more to highlight some of the program’s Black pioneers.

“I say the following both in sadness and anger but I feel I have no recourse,” Beard, who coached the New Jersey Nets from 2004 to 2006 and had stints as a head coach at Howard and Morgan State, wrote in the letter. “Given the lack of acknowledgement to the legacy of former black players and the lack of commitment in diversity hiring, I am asking the university to remove my name and accomplishments from any existing or future mention. The university’s commitment to young black men is far from what it should look like in 2021. I know the university in the past has attracted players by using my name, and although it may not be as relevant now, this for me is a matter of principle.”

He told ESPN his concerns about the school’s hiring practices extend beyond the major sports on campus. Beard, 73, said he hopes Louisville’s leadership will make a stronger effort to diversify its hiring pools as more jobs open up at the school in the future.

“I want them to get to know some Black people,” Beard told ESPN. “Whether they hire them or not, get to know them.”

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