Last Saturday, Texas A&M sprinter Infinite Tucker and linebacker Keeath Magee II were among the dozens of students who marched and protested against the statue of Sullivan Ross, a Confederate general, at the Academic Plaza on the College Station campus. The demonstration was peaceful until tensions escalated regarding the 102-year old statue at the heart of campus.
Two videos surfaced on social media where Tucker is seen knocking pennies off the base of the statue and then getting into an exchange where an older white man, who identified himself to the athletes as Lee Roy, seems to ask Tucker, “Are you an Aggie or a Blackie?”
On Monday morning, Tucker shared a 17-second video to Twitter captioned, “Racism still exist [sic] on Texas A&M Campus. Here is proof: As you can hear, by the birds chirping, I was peacefully and calmly protesting until Leroy [sic] asked me if I was an “Aggie or Blackie.”
Lee Roy was not home when Sports Illustrated contacted him by phone, and he did not return a request for comment. Sports Illustrated obtained contact information for Lee Roy, but is not including his last name because it could not be independently verified. A man who answered on Thursday morning declined to comment. Lee Roy, who is an A&M alum from 1972, told KBTX, a CBS affiliate in Bryan, Texas, that he did not use the word “blackie,” instead saying “blaggie” to try to convey that despite skin color, everyone is an Aggie. He told KBTX that his comments were taken out of context.
Magee and Tucker told Sports Illustrated that they’re sure “Blackie” is what they heard.
Moments later, in a video captured by Brent Zwerneman of The Houston Chronicle, Tucker is seen reaching out to knock pennies off the statue and tells the man to not touch him. After most of the pennies fall to the floor, Tucker walks away.
“I feel at risk and unsafe knowing there’s people at this school who really support this statue and what it actually stands for,” Tucker says. “I don’t like the way I feel knowing that the statue is still around.”
“I want the statue to be removed and I want the guy to publicly apologize to me,” Tucker adds.
“We know what we heard,” Magee II says. “We didn’t think he really said it, but he said it.”
“To have an older Aggie say that was infuriating,” he adds. “It was frustrating and it was downright humiliating to call ourselves athletes that play for a school where someone feels this way.”
Dozens of statues throughout the country have ignited debate as the country faces a racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May. Protests against racism and police brutality have spread across the country.
The statue of Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross was dedicated in 1918 as a tribute to the former Texas A&M president (1891–1898) and two-term Texas governor, who was a Confederate general in the Civil War. The statue is the oldest on Texas A&M’s campus and has a tradition where students place pennies at his feet before taking exams.
Senior quarterback Kellen Mond is among the most vocal proponents of removing the statue and shared information about how Ross “killed and disenfranchised blacks” to advocate for upholding slavery.
Current NFL players and former Aggie stars, including Johnny Manziel, have backed Mond in his push. A Change.org petition to remove the statue has more than 25,000 signatures as of Thursday morning, while a petition to keep the statue has more than 27,000. Those who are in favor of saving the statue often point toward Ross’s work to save the university from financial struggles and boosting enrollment.
The campus police department is still investigating the June 10 vandalization of the statue, when “racist,” “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) and “ACAB” (all cops are bad) were graffitied. Texas A&M police obtained video footage of a white man in a hoodie, but no suspect has been identified.
Texas A&M vice president Shane Hinckley was at Saturday’s protest and issued a statement to SI on Wednesday saying he was impressed by how the students responded and explaining why Lee Roy’s apparent comment was inappropriate.
“We are alarmed by the increasing reports of racism and hate speech in our country, and are especially disturbed by painful language directed at our students — intended or not,” Hinckley wrote. “This diminishes a person based on the color of his skin — that’s not acceptable. People absolutely have the right to free speech, however, the university does not have to condone it. It does not live up to our Aggie core values — that includes respecting our fellow humans, inspiring others through strength of character and doing the right thing regardless of the circumstances. We all must do better.”
On June 17, Texas A&M President Michael K. Young announced a task force commission to study the statue’s future. In August 2017, as the University of Texas removed three Confederate monuments from its campus after the violent protests involving white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., Young defended the Ross statue, saying, “Without Sul Ross, neither Texas A&M University nor Prairie View A&M University would likely exist today. He saved our school and Prairie View through his consistent advocacy in the face of those who persistently wanted to close us down.”
No timeline has been set to determine whether the statue will be up when students return for the fall semester, but a decision is expected soon.
“The Commission will be reviewing historic representations on our campus – including statues, monuments and buildings — in name, placement and context, then offer appropriate courses of action,” a university spokesperson told SI in a statement. “They’re starting with the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue.”
No complaint has been filed with the University Police Department at Texas A&M regarding Saturday’s confrontation. Tucker says there are discussions underway for another protest or demonstration on campus in July.
“I want a community where Black students, Black student-athletes and other students of color can feel that they can come to a university where they don’t have to face racism or feel like they are being discriminated against,” Magee says. “I feel like the statue is just the start.”