Bessemer Academy has been a recent powerhouse in Alabama high school football. The Rebels have claimed four of the past six state championships, won 51 of their last 52 games, and are currently on a 26-game winning streak. So why was head coach Mark Freeman let go last month?
The BIRMINGHAM NEWS reports on the controversial firing of the successful football coach. Bessemer Academy officials say that Freeman’s contract was not renewed because of financial problems the private school is facing.
However, some players believe that Freeman’s departure was over racial concerns - namely, that some parents of white players were mad that black players were getting more playing time than their own kids.
Since Freeman, who was white, was let go in June, five black players have left Bessemer’s program. One of the departing players is Brandon Heavens, who says that the coach was kicked out for being color-blind:
“Most of the stories I heard as to why Coach was let go I didn’t really like,” said Heavens, who is black. “Some people told me it was about the budget or something. I believe Coach was let go because of racism. I talked to my mom and dad about all that and we were pretty big on that racism part. We talked and decided I needed to go to a different school.
“It was like more of the black players were getting to play instead of the white players with Coach Freeman. And some of the white players on the team were not getting to play as much.”
And Heavens says such claims of less playing time are ridiculous:
On a team that won by an average of 25 points per game last year, playing time was spread around, Heavens said.
“Every game last year we played, it was like none of our starters played much after halftime,” Heavens said. “Everybody played in the second half, so I don’t know what the problem was.”
Harris Gaston, another Bessemer player, isn’t transferring, but does share Heavens’ views on Freeman’s firing:
“I don’t think it was a money issue why Coach Freeman left,” said Gaston, who is black. “I think it was about the black players he was bringing to the school. I believe it was a racial issue.”
Meanwhile, Freeman believes his termination wasn’t necessarily about race, but more about politics - and the lack of allies on the school board:
“I couldn’t please certain people and still have the caliber of program I wanted to have. And that has nothing to do with race. I couldn’t satisfy the right people and couldn’t please everybody.”
But he certainly wasn’t pleased by the way he found out about his firing:
“I was told about this through children (at the school),” he said. “That’s how I learned about this - children. Not through the school or from any board member. To this day, I have not heard from or talked to one board member - not one time about nothing.”
So, a coach who’s won over 100 games for his school now needs to find a new job - possibly because he wanted to put out the best team possible, regardless of skin color. Hard to believe that such racist attitudes would still exist these days.
OK, maybe not.