This story was written by both Pokes Report publisher Robert Allen and reporter Marshall Levenson.
STILLWATER -- With about two-thirds of the Oklahoma State football team back on campus preparing for voluntary workouts, which ironically could start on the Monday when all this happened, questions arose over the sensitivity of the head coach with regards to what is going on in America today. As the subject stewed in the West End Zone, coaching staff members were working. Associate head coach and offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn was in a Zoom meeting with his receivers. Down the hall in the cowboys back meeting room Jason McEndoo was doing the same with his players. Recruiting coordinator Todd Bradford doing some pacing up and down the hall.
Outside the building the college football world, and particularly media, were trying to figure out just what was going on with the Twitter traffic starting with a media member tweeting a picture of Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy and his two sons after a really good day striper fishing on Lake Texhoma. Gundy was in the picture wearing a One America News t-shirt. The network and website are known as an ultra-conservative news source.
All-American running back Chuba Hubbard saw the tweet and he unloaded his negative feelings about his head coach wearing that shirt.
"I will not stand for this," wrote Hubbard on Twitter. "This is completely insensitive to everything going on in society, and it is unacceptable. I will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things CHANGE."
Immediately, former and current players started voicing their opinion, and for many their backing of Hubbard. At the same time, Hubbard was getting a backlash of negative comments from those disagreeing with his feelings.
Okay, Gundy made a poor choice of fishing shirts. Hubbard reacted to it quick and, in his own words, maybe too public. Later, both met with each other, and reportedly other players, admitting that some mistakes were made on both sides. Now they will work to make things better.
While Hubbard and some other current and former players reacted immediately, at least one current Cowboy player was said he was trying to figure out what all the fuss was about.
“I honestly did not even know what the shirt meant," said a current Oklahoma State player that is African-American. "I'm still trying to gather some information about the whole deal, just like a lot of people out here.”
A shirt may have instigated the issue, but how deep does the insensitivity go?
What this really boils down to is how do current and former players at Oklahoma State that are African-American feel they are treated? The catch word is Cowboy culture, but is it a culture that serves all involved? There was an immediate response of former players that left having played little or left on the NCAA Transfer Portal. It's hard to take those comments at face value and two players we talked to even disagreed with one of the more accusatory messages from a transferred player. Those players said it didn't happen.
However, there were some current players that voiced that the culture could be improved.
“This whole thing with Gundy is like a slap in the face, honestly, for his African American players, very disrespectful in my opinion,” said a player that has reported to campus. “Moving forward I’m not sure what's going to happen but it’s not good right now in my perspective. No one is going to want to play for someone when you feel like they don't have your back or support you.”
Two former player told Pokes Report that they wanted to see more out of Gundy, and perhaps the coaching staff in general, in backing the players viewpoint.
“It also feels like he should be doing more out there," said one former player. "We see some coaches around the country actually out at protests. We see that Gundy though is just tweeting saying that he wants to support us but he’s not actually out there showing it. I feel like that would go a long way in people's minds if they saw him actively doing something.”
"Maybe if he and the other coaches could go out and show support in public, that would mean something real to us," said another recent former player. "I know there are some health issues with that, but at the same time you want your players to have your back as much as you should have theirs.”
Pokes Report knows that last week Gundy held a meeting for team members that had already come back to campus in the first two waves. The meeting in the team room was specifically for players to make their voices heard on issues to teammates, coaches, and staff.
"We want to hear what you guys are thinking and feeling," Gundy had said to the players. "As head coach I promise that I will do everything in my power to help you guys get your message across."
Pokes Report spoke to several people that were there in the meeting, player and staff. Those individuals preferred to stay anonymous, but said it went well with players opening up and coaches and staff primarily listening.
Several former Oklahoma State players went on record with Pokes Report. Former linebacker Justin Phillips was recently resigned by the Las Vegas Raiders. Phillips played in four games with the Raiders last season and had four tackles on defense and three more on special teams.
He said he did not mind going on record as to how he felt playing at Oklahoma State for Mike Gundy, specifically as an African-American.
“No, I never had a bad experience and not just around the football complex but around the town too," Phillips said. "I know that is part of the perks of being a football player. I felt I was treated very fairly.”
Middle linebacker Chad Whitener transferred to Oklahoma State from Cal-Berkeley and started for most of three season in 2015-17. As a senior Whitener was elected captain. Whitener is now serving as a financial advisor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Whitener said if Gundy was anything, he was biased toward offensive players.
"As far as Coach Gundy and the coaching staff, I feel that I was treated very fairly," started Whitener. "I know he talked more to the offensive players because he was more involved in the offense. It made sense, he is an offensive coach. I didn’t talk much with Coach Gundy outside the football facility, but I felt I was always treated equally from a football standpoint and as a person."
Whitener went further and really answered the question from purely a racial standpoint.
"Football-wise, as far as my experience, I was treated fair racially," continued Whitener. "Coach Gundy, the other coaches, the strength coaches ... I never heard anything out of line. I never heard anything racial in nature, or felt that I was treated unfair because of my race. I never saw anything from Coach Gundy that was racially incorrect,
"But wearing a t-shirt like that in this time may be insensitive," added Whitener. I know that network is favorable to President Trump and he has said some things that are derogatory about people that are legally using their right to protest; as well as talking poorly about other minorities, like Chinese with the virus, and Mexicans with the building of the wall. In this time, I can see him (Gundy) wearing that shirt as being insensitive to people that care about those issues."
In the end, the shirt Gundy was wearing created a storm of a reaction. Does it mean Mike Gundy runs a program that is not comfortable for players that are African-American. The tone of the players we spoke to doesn't indicate that. Gundy has never had that issue previously. At least it has never been reported in his 15 seasons as head coach. At the end of this issue Gundy and Hubbard stood together with a joint message of understanding.
“He's always been really good to me," said a former Oklahoma State player and captain. "He actually let me go home once during camp because of an important family matter, so I don't think he has ever looked down on or judged anyone because of the color of their skin. He has always been a good guy to me.”
In the end, poor choice of shirt, quick reaction that may have been an overreaction and now Gundy, his staff, and players have time to improve as they said they want to. Make a team that looks really strong on the field this fall, just as strong off the field.
The past five hours of constant drama and social media tidal wave did get Gundy and Hubbard together. By the message in their Twitter video, change is possible, and quick change for that matter. Within hours of Chuba Hubbard and his teammates letting their feelings out to the public, Mike Gundy said he is determined to turn words into plans and then into action to enhance the culture of the Oklahoma State program.
This is the exact response the African-American community has been seeking... realization and change.