Fair and equitable treatment of athletes doesn’t threaten tradition.
More than just Megan Mullen’s intentions should be considered.
I want to feel good about Megan Mullen giving her husband’s players a hug and a kiss before every game.
I really do.
I want to live in a world where it’s OK for me to feel good about Megan Mullen showing affection to her husband’s team.
It has been six days since the internet was sent into a frenzy, when a University of Georgia superfan posted a photo on Twitter of Megan giving each member of the Florida Gators football team a hug and kiss as they departed the bus and headed into the stadium for their annual rivalry game against the Georgia Bulldogs.
A tradition she has maintained since the Mullens returned to Gainesville, Florida.
Her husband, Dan, was offensive coordinator from 2005-08 under then head coach Urban Meyer. He left in 2009 to become the head coach at Mississippi State and became the Gators’ head ball coach in 2018.
I believe Megan Mullen when she told Rivals.com in 2018:
“They are our children. So, I have two at home, then I have a furry baby, and then I have a big baby as a husband, and I’ve got 119 others.The biggest honor that can be bestowed upon us as a coach, and a coach’s wife, is a parent and a student athlete deciding to come play for us, and be a part of our family...they came to Florida to win a national championship. But they also — I think — deserve a family that just loves them more than the world, and every day I want them to know how proud I am of them because they sacrifice so much and they work, so, so hard.”
On its face, it is completely noble. Heartwarming even, in the cold world of the collegiate sports industrial complex.
If you watch the video of that interview and observe Megan on game days, you can’t possibly think she has anything but genuine affection for these players and the purest intentions.
But as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
OK, that might be a bit harsh. But if you take a milder interpretation of that saying, you’ll catch my drift.
The optics of a diminutive White woman inhabiting the personal spaces of large young Black men carries a lot of baggage.
That’s not Megan’s fault per se, and it’s certainly not the players’ fault.
The fault lies in our nation.
This nation that was built upon the backs of people that looked like the Gators' players, at the behest of people that looked like Megan and her husband.
This nation that has a history of harassment and abuse by people in power over those subject to said power.
We the people, are this nation. So says the preamble of our Constitution. It is incumbent on us to understand how that baggage both past and present impacts each and every one of us and each and every one of our interactions, no matter how well intentioned.
As the head football coach, Dan Mullen is in effect these players’ boss. He controls their football and academic futures. Megan, by extension, shares in that power and privilege.
It’s an issue of power and consent. It is unlikely that a player, if he felt so inclined, would feel comfortable telling coach Mullen, “Hey, I really don’t want your wife hugging or touching me or invading my personal space.”
It is intended as an outward expression of affection, sure, but perhaps some of the guys don’t like to be touched and feel uncomfortable.
Football teams are known to be conformist by nature. Everyone pulling together for a common goal and all that. If six of every 10 players are OK with it or even welcome it, do you think the remaining four will speak up?
Megan is standing outside the bus waiting, and there is an expectation that you engage with her. There is no opportunity for a player to opt out. It is in front of everyone with cameras rolling.
As the adult, Megan needs to be aware of her power and privilege in this instance and think about each and every one of her 119 “children” and recognize that they are all different and might feel differently about this.
Many online have cried that this is a classic example of a double standard, and they wouldn’t be wrong.
If a Black husband of the coach of a majority White women’s tennis, swimming, or golf team was seen standing outside the bus and giving each young woman a hug and kiss, what do you think the reaction would be?
The animus that exists between Blacks and Whites, as it relates to Black men and White women, goes all the way back to the Antebellum South.
Countless Black men were beaten and killed for imagined offenses against White women.
This nation’s first major blockbuster film, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, portrayed Black men as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards White women. A belief still possessed by some, and a trope many laws, that still exist, were built upon.
This is not the fault of any of these players, and it’s not Megan’s either. But as an adult, the responsibility is on her.
As the person with the power and privilege, she needs to be keenly aware of everything. Her intentions cannot be the only thing she’s considering. There are 119 young men whose feelings also matter.
Someone is probably reading this, and struggling to understand why this incident is such a big deal and why it has sparked outrage.
That’s the thing about race, privilege and power dynamics, particularly if you’re Black.
Sometimes you experience it acutely, and it makes you feel some type of way. On other days you might not.
Sometimes we know what it is, but can’t articulate it either due to sheer exhaustion, or literally what United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 when describing the threshold for obscenity (hardcore pornography):
“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ['hard-core pornography'], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”
The intentions were good. But I know an abuse of power, albeit unintended, when I see it.
Rivals.com reporter Jacquie Franciulli, who interviewed Megan Mullen in that 2018 video, reached out to BET via Twitter and said the following: "Players are not forced to hug her and some don’t. They simply walk past her and nothing is made of it. Again it’s their choice."
Some players have also come out in support of "Mamma Mullen" amid the controversy: