University Of Minnesota Spelling Error Angers Black Community

By Chip Scoggins
Updated: August 10, 2005

Sandy Stephens

MINNEAPOLIS — University of Minnesota officials were apologetic Tuesday after they misspelled Sandy Stephens’ last name on football tickets for the Gophers’ home game against Michigan State. It was another blow to the fragile relationship between the athletic department and the local black community.

The university incorporated pictures of former Gophers greats on season tickets this season, and Stephens’ name was spelled “Stevens” on tickets that recently were mailed to season-ticket holders.

Stephens was a pioneering black athlete at the ‘U’. He was the nation’s first black All-America quarterback, led the Gophers to their last national championship in 1960 and is one of only four Gophers players whose numbers have been retired. Stephens died in 2000.

University officials expressed regret for the mistake, but members of the local black community voiced frustration over the latest faux pas by the university.

“It’s incomprehensible for them to misspell the name of a prominent athlete like Sandy Stephens,” said former Gophers basketball player Al Nuness, who is the school’s representative to the Big Ten advisory committee on diversity. “This guy was the first black major college quarterback. He led them to the Rose Bowl two years in a row, a national title, his number is retired and he has an endowed scholarship in his name. And we misspell his name? That’s inexcusable.”

The university athletic department has been criticized for historically low graduation rates among black student-athletes and for failing to have an African-American on the immediate staff of athletic director Joel Maturi. Maturi hired a consulting firm last year to help the department deal with diversity issues and said he believes his department is making progress in that area. Former football player Dr. John Williams said there are myriad reasons for the divide.

“There are so many scars and things from decades ago that they have to overcome,” he said. “Until the university decides it wants to overcome these things, and it flows from the top down, I think it’s always going to be a struggle. I’m not going to make a blanket statement because I know there are good people over there, but it’s just that they’re dealing with some ingrained attitudes.”

The ticket mistake did not help matters. Gregg Shimanski, associate athletic director for external relations, took responsibility for the error and said university officials hope to contact the Stephens family to apologize.

“This was not a reflection of Sandy or what he’s meant to the university,” Shimanski said. “It just happened to be something we all missed. It’s something we obviously regret.”

Said Williams: “Somebody dropped the ball. Certainly it should have been caught. One side of the fence will say that’s to be expected because there seems to be a strained relationship between the university and the black athletes. They may look at it in one light whereas it really could be just an honest error. But it’s something that shouldn’t have happened.”