The University of Florida has announced that they will be banning the ‘Gator Bait’ cheer from sporting events, but what does this term mean historically?

Since the death of George Floyd and the demonstrations around the globe supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, people have been revaluating the memorabilia of the past.

Statues of people linked to slavery have been torn down, culturally inappropriate episodes of television shows removed from the air and now, sporting terms with racist origins are being banned.

This week, the University of Florida has banned the use of the ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at sporting events, but historically what does this term mean?

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

What does ‘Gator Bait’ mean?

The history of ‘Gator Bait’ according to various sources is as follow: African-American children being used as live bait for alligators by white huntsmen.

“Alligator Bait is the term drives [sic] from an activity conducted by white men, mostly in the swamps of Louisiana and Florida throughout the south. These white people were sick beyond belief. These alligator hunters needed to lure the larger bull alligators with human flesh and blood.” – David Emery on Snopes.

These horrendous practices were well-documented in the early-20th century, but the most frequently cited source is the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan, which houses postcards, product packaging and numerous trinkets that show black children being used as alligator bait.

1900sc Postcard-Alligator 01 – Public Domain from WikimediaCommons

According to The Undefeated, Time Magazine reported in 1923 that “coloured babies were being used for alligator bait” in Chipley, Florida – an accusation that the town said was “a silly lie, false and absurd.”

“The infants are allowed to play in the shallow water while expert riflemen watch from concealment nearby. When a saurian [meaning large reptile] approaches this prey, he is shot by the riflemen.” – Time Magazine via The Undefeated.

In the same year, the Oakland Tribune reported: “Pickaninny [a racial slur] bait lures voracious gator to death… and mother gets her baby back in perfect condition. And $2.”

Unfortunately, there are also accounts that indicate much more barbaric tactics were used. The Miami New Times reported that alligator hunters would readily sacrifice slave children using a contraption of ropes and would only kill the reptile after the child had been eaten.

1909 Postcard Quincy Florida-Alligator – Public Domain from WikimediaCommons

University of Florida bans the ‘Gator Bait’ cheer

Yesterday, June 18th, it was announced that the University of Florida would be banning the use of ‘Gator Bait’ as a cheer at their sporting events.

The university’s sports teams are nicknamed the Gators and the cheer is commonly heard when the campus band plays a certain tune – which the fans reply with by making a ‘chomping jaws’ gesture with their arms and shouting “Gator Bait!”

However, The University of Florida President, Kent Fuchs, remained adamant there he knew of no ties that associated with the university chant and racism.

“While I know of no evidence of racism associated with our “Gator Bait” cheer at UF sporting events, there is horrific historic racist imagery associated with the phrase. Accordingly, University Athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer.” – University of Florida President, Kent Fuchs.

Photo by Florida/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Fuchs also said in his statement: “It is past time for UF to commit and engage in this challenging, uncomfortable, transformational work.”

This is much-needed step in the right direction and a necessary item of education.

“We know that we cannot undo lifetimes of injustice and racism, but we believe we can make progress – in education, in advancing truth, reconciliation and justice, and in anti-racism, equality and working to eradicate inequities.” – University of Florida President, Kent Fuchs.