Column: Masoli Plight ‘Similar’ To Civil Rights Hero

In a recent, lengthy piece for the PORTLAND OREGONIAN, columnist Steve Duin compares the plight of Jeremiah Masoli at Ole Miss to that of civil rights pioneer James Meredith, who was the first black to enroll at the school in 1962.

Steve Duin: Jeremiah Masoli's plight 'similar' to civil rights pioneer at Ole Miss

After applying to Ole Miss twice and being denied both times, Meredith sued the school in 1960 for the right to be admitted. His lawsuit asserted that the only reason the all-white institution would not admit him was because he was black. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a landmark 1961 ruling granted that Meredith had every right be admitted to the school.

Even after the SCOTUS ruling, Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett attempted to block Meredith’s entrance to Ole Miss on numerous occasions before U.S. President John Kennedy interceded - allowing for Meredith’s admittance to the school.

Meredith’s class attendance at Ole Miss sparked riots, resulting in the callup of troops from the U.S. Army, Mississippi Army National Guard and U.S. Border Patrol. Those riots left two dead, including a murdered journalist and 160 injured Army soldiers.

Despite that deadly disturbance and constant, oft-unthinkable abuse from his classmates, Meredith graduated on August 18, 1963, from Ole Miss with a degree in political science. (He had previously attended Jackson State for two years.)

By transferring to Ole Miss, Meredith made civil rights history while facing murderous resistance every step of the way. By any measure Meredith is a genuine, American hero.

After acknowledging Meredith’s profound contribution to the American civil rights movement with his admittance to Ole Miss, the Oregonian’s Duin writes of Masoli’s transfer to the same school:

Masoli’s challenge is similar in spirit if not scale. While in high school, he spent three months in a California juvenile facility for his part in an armed robbery. In his final months in Eugene, he pleaded guilty to burglarizing a UO fraternity house and was nabbed by Eugene police with marijuana in his car.

… It might be a stretch to connect James Meredith and Jeremiah Masoli across the historic and racial divide of 48 years. But late on a humid afternoon in Oxford, I found John Ciardi’s postscript to Charles Eagles‘ history of Meredith, “The Price of Defiance.”

Writing in 1963, Ciardi said this about what Meredith endured after he reached Ole Miss:

“God knows what it must cost a man inside of himself to plod that course, to keep himself forever under his own surveillance, to realize that he must present himself in public not as a man but as an image, and that the least impetuous gesture from inside the man might destroy what that image must accomplish.”

Masoli plods a similar course. He can not dodge the spotlight in his final college season or survive another impetuous gesture.

Masoli pleaded guilty to burglarizing a Univ. of Oregon fraternity house after repeatedly lying to Oregon football coach Chip Kelly and local authorities about his involvement in the crime.

After Kelly, despite being lied to, took an enormous public relations hit by giving Masoli one more chance with the Ducks, the quarterback was caught with marijuana in his car weeks later.

Once Masoli was kicked off the Oregon squad by Kelly, he quickly transferred to Ole Miss solely to play for Houston Nutt’s Rebel football squad. Considering the quarterback’s history of legal impropriety, Masoli’s reception from the school was remarkably positive, enthusiastic and trusting.

In his Oregonian piece, Duin never explains why the circumstances of Masoli’s transfer to play football at Ole Miss after being thrown off his previous team for criminal acts and lying to his coach repeatedly is similar to Meredith’s harrowing and historical journey to the same school.

Maybe because it isn’t.