Player who started Gator Bait chant defends the tradition

UF President Kent Fuchs announced the cheer would no longer be played at future sporting events
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Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 12:15 AM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - If you’ve been at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during a Gator football game, its likely you’ve heard the “Gator Bait” chant.

A few weeks ago, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs released a statement addressing changes to the University’s policies, curriculum, and regulations in efforts to address racism and inequality on campus. Removing the Gator Bait cheer was one change that created controversy for Gator Nation.

It even took some local historians a second to reconsider the popular cheer.

“I thought about it for just a moment ... and realized that the saying actually has a much darker history that most people aren’t aware of,” Dixie Neilson, Executive Director of the Matheson History Museum, said.

While there is no direct relation between the chant and the history of the name, the association itself was enough for President Fuchs to end the long-time gator tradition.

“It’s a story that has been passed down from the early days,” Neilson said, “people who were hunting alligators would use black children as bait. They would put them at the end of the pole and dangle them over the water and when the gators came up to snap them, the hunters would shoot the gators.”

But a new meaning was given to the phrase after the Gators won the 1996 National Football Championship. It was coined by former Gator star player, Lawrence Wright.

“You either stand with the Gators and Gator Nation or you’re Gator bait. That’s it.” Wright said.

And just like that, it was re-born as a phrase to describe Gator team rivals. In 1998, it was added to the Gator band’s repertoire and became an instant fan-favorite. It has stuck for more than 20 years.

“This was a staple in our history. You go look at the stadium ... you see 93, 94, 95, 96, SEC Champs. You see the 1996 National Champs. The first in history. And at that point, the phrase had taken a movement of its own,” Wright said.

“Man, how can you erase all that for something that happened in the 18th century?,” he said.

Wright says he will continue to support the phrase because of the new history that UF gave it ... one of Gator family pride.

“That’s the only thing I was trying to communicate,” he said. “Why stop something because of a meaning that don’t match up?”

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