Meeting for the first time in years, football teams from Morehouse College and Howard University will face off at the Nation’s Football Classic this Saturday in Washington, D.C. But you may find few people talking about the game itself.
In fact, the flurry of activities surrounding the classic’s inaugural game, which include debates, symposiums and receptions, suggest that pressing social issues, along with athletics, will be at the forefront of the event.
Fittingly, the theme for this year’s event is that it is “More than just a game.”
“Sometimes you can use sports, which people are interested in, as a backdrop to address issues such as Black male achievement,” says Dr. Alvin Thornton, senior adviser to the president at Howard.
On Thursday, Thornton participated in a symposium addressing Black male stereotypes and achievement. The panel included such all-stars as Michael Eric Dyson, Fredricka Whitfield and actor Isaiah Washington.
On Friday, representatives from several HBCUs will gather in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center as part of an HBCU college recruitment and showcase tour. Later in the day, forensics teams from Morehouse and Howard will debate a timely and pertinent issue—whether student athletes should be paid for their services.
“We have deliberately designed a number of programs to highlight the academic excellence of our two institutions and of all Black colleges and universities,” says Robert Franklin, Morehouse’s president.
The activities planned for the weekend provide an opportunity for HBCUs to highlight their strengths as powerhouses of research, critical thinking, and intellectual development, says Franklin.
“We are assets for the marketplace of higher education,” he says.
Thornton says that the event could bring HBCUs back into the debate about higher education during a time in which many question their relevancy.
He notes that it is impossible to avoid the connection between HBCUs and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
“We think that this classic will help us to fend off some of that stuff and deal with some of the caricatures that people are saying about our schools,” says Thornton.
As two premier historically Black institutions, Howard and Morehouse have nurtured a rivalry since 1927, says Henry Goodgame, director of alumni relations at Morehouse.
He notes that Howard’s first Black presidents, Mordecai Johnson and James Nabrit Jr., were Morehouse men.
In one sense, he says, the longstanding relationship between the two schools was built upon intellectual as well as athletic rivalry.
“A lot of our leadership at Howard was provided by a Morehouse education,” he says. “It’s not just about playing ball. Here it’s about developing the whole man, the mind, body and spirit.”
Louis “Skip” Perkins, Howard’s athletic director, praises the preparedness of Morehouse’s team but won’t offer much in the way of predictions.
“I like our chances,” he says.
With students at both colleges, the game has been a hit. At Howard, tickets to the game are sold out.
“They’re really excited about this,” says Perkins. “Next to homecoming on campus, this is the biggest game we’re playing this year.”
“This rivalry between Howard and Morehouse has brought excitement on campus, not just with the students, not just the athletes, but also the faculty, administration and staff,” says Andre Pattillo, athletic director at Morehouse. “A lot of our students that graduate from Morehouse also end up in the graduate program at Howard University,” he says.
The game also has the potential to breathe new life into D.C.’s image, says Perkins.
“Right now, as a city, we’ve been so bad in so many sports for so long, we kind of need an event to call our own,” notes Perkins. “And this is an opportunity for us.”