Former John Thompson Jr. player "Bashful" puts to bed the speculation surrounding the infamous "racist banner"
I read the article about John Thompson by Harold Bell and I think it is worth correcting an egregious error in the piece. It has to do with the racist banner that was "hung" in McDonough gym in 1975. I was there and I am very sure I know the folks who did it. It was not John Thompson who did it and that is a crazy thing to allege.
More after The Jump:
First of all, it was a Saturday night game in the winter of 1975. Back then the basketball games started at 8pm in McDonough. Where today there is a wall with the NBA jerseys of former Hoya players, in 1975 there was a stage and above that, the American flag which we all faced during the national anthem before the games. During the playing of the national anthem a white bed linen with some spray painted words was unfurled from a window just to the west of the flag. That window could be accessed from the outside of the gym by a staircase that led into a squash or handball court. When the banner was unfurled, the people who held it quickly lost their hold of it and the sheet fluttered down to the staircase leading up to the second deck of the gym. I did not see what was written on it and I don't think many others did either, although I certainly recall the commotion of it interrupting the national anthem. Nothing was said about it during the game or at halftime. After the game, which was a blow out win as I recall, Coach Thompson was informed of the banner and its content and went into the locker room to tell the players. He was not a happy man and neither was anyone else. It certainly took the joy out of a decisive win. Eventually it was decided that Felix Yeoman would address the issue for the media on behalf of the players and he did so very well. Felix was only a freshman at the time.
The sign was an embarrassment to Georgetown since its content was despicable, but at the same time, the resulting fallout was encouraging because the entire thing was so roundly and unanimously condemned by everyone from top to bottom on campus. Did it give Coach Thompson job security? I don't think so. He was a month or so away from leading the program to its first NCAA berth since 1943 and at a time when only 25 teams made the tournament. THAT gave him job security.
Now the whole episode has been the subject of speculation for years so let's put it to bed. My understanding is as follows: the sheet was made and briefly hung by two members of the football team at the time. The football team had been moved to the locker room on the west side of McDonough along with other intercollegiate teams that fall. There had been a strong feeling among those athletes that the move was either orchestrated by Coach Thompson or indicative of a favoritism towards the basketball team by the Athletic Department. After all, the basketball team still retained its locker room by the trainer's office and everyone else was sent packing. Also remember that Saturday night games at McDonough in the 70s were a social highlight of the campus for many during a winter school week and it wasn't unusual for students to enjoy a few drinks before and during games.
So with that in mind, what you had were two 20-year old football players with an axe to grind who probably had a few drinks and did something incredibly stupid and wrong. I know both of these guys and don't think that either one is racist. In fact, one is actually a minority but not an African American. Neither one of them came from the East Coast nor do I think they really appreciated just how incendiary and wrong the use of such language could be. They were pissed about something and were going to get in everyone's face about it. Both of them, to my knowledge, have had no missteps in their lives since that time and so I think it would be wrong to publicly identify them now. But it would also be wrong not to make sure that a nutty allegation that Coach Thompson did it not be corrected and set right.