Full Court Press: Mississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball

By Smith, Pete | Journalism History, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Full Court Press: Mississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball


Smith, Pete, Journalism History


Peterson, Jason A. Full Court Press: Mississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016. 262 pp. $65.00.

In March 1963, the Mississippi State University (MSU) men's basketball team arrived in East Lansing, Michigan, for their first-round NCAA tournament game against Loyola University of Chicago. It was the first tournament appearance for both teams, but this was no ordinary game.

MSU's appearance in what would eventually be billed as the "Game of Change" marked the first time a sports team from the school-or any four-year college or university in the state-played against an integrated team or participated in an integrated sports tournament. In doing so, the MSU basketball team defied the state's so-called "unwritten law," a non-binding agreement between the state government and its public colleges and universities that would keep its athletic teams segregated- thus maintaining the state's social and political allegiance to Jim Crow.

However, school administrators and many alumni and students were tired of handing the NCAA invitation over to rivals such as the University of Kentucky (which finished behind MSU in the most recent conference standings), as they had done on three other occasions, and thought that student athletes should be allowed to compete at the highest level. To be sure, many MSU supporters wanted to see, too, if an all-white team could beat an integrated one-perhaps confirming, then, the myth of white superiority.

With very few exceptions, including Russell Henderson's historical analysis, "The 1963 Mississippi State University Basketball Controversy and the Repeal of the Unwritten Law: 'Something More than a Game Will Be Lost,'" for The Journal of Southern History, no scholarship has been produced regarding the "Game of Change." Most certainly, an examination of the role of the press in reporting and framing the event is nonexistent and long overdue. However, Jason Peterson, an assistant professor of communication at Charleston Southern University, does his part in helping fill that void.

The book, the origins of which can be traced to Peterson's doctoral research at the University of Southern Mississippi, is divided chronologically into six main chapters. The first three chapters: "Sometimes, Even College Administrators Act like Freshmen," "We'll Stay at Home and Tell Everybody We're the Best," and "The Less Said, the Better," provides readers with some much-needed context regarding the political, racial, and social circumstances of the era and, given that most readers are unfamiliar with the history of both MSU and Southeastern Conference basketball, important details regarding the university's success in the league in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Included in this discussion is a thorough telling of the reasons behind the state's "unwritten law," which can be traced to Jones County (Mississippi) Junior College's participation in the 1955 Junior Rose Bowl and the team's loss to the integrated Compton (California) College. …

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