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MSU Press pulls controversial Duffy Daugherty book to review accuracy

July 27, 2023
<p>Charles "Bubba" Smith, right, closes in on an opponent.</p>

Charles "Bubba" Smith, right, closes in on an opponent.

Michigan State University’s academic press has halted sales of a controversial biography while its accuracy and ethics are reviewed, a university spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.

The book, “Duffy Daugherty: A Man Ahead of His Time,” is a purportedly-historical work chronicling the former head football coach’s groundbreaking recruitment of Black players before widespread integration of college football.

In May, The State News reported that it was published seemingly in violation of the University Press’ ethics and accuracy standards.

MSU said this was because it was a "non-academic work" intended for a “general audience” – a justification that perplexed researchers.

Maya Washington, a historian who's studied the topic and the daughter of Gene Washington, a hall of fame wide receiver written about at length in the book, told The State News in May she was “shocked and appalled” by the university’s stance.

She criticized the book’s lack of academic citations and overall “clumsy handling of race” in passages about Daugherty’s efforts to integrate MSU’s football team.

Washington said that she had raised her concerns with MSU’s administration, but had been “stonewalled” for months.

The new freeze — which comes two months after the publication of that story — leaves the book’s future unclear.

After the content is reviewed, the university will “make a determination on how best to proceed with remaining copies,” deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen said in an email Wednesday.

He added that MSU hopes to complete the process by the start of the fall semester.

It also doesn't completely remove it from the market. While the University Press will no longer sell the book directly, copies remain available online from third-party sellers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Film Adaptation

Opposition to the book swelled last year when it was announced that a Hollywood movie adaption was in the works.

While the integrity problems began with the book, Washington and former players say the film is far more problematic.

A group of dozens of players on Daugherty’s teams have said the film is largely fabricated and portrays them in stereotypical, racist ways.

The objectionable scenes include depictions of them frequently partying and being promiscuous, dramatic subplots involving wholly fabricated racist white teammates, and a historically undocumented conversation between Daugherty and prolific civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

The players were not contacted by the film's producers or involved in the production, and they were only given a chance to read the script through their legal back-and-forth with the film’s attorneys.

The State News has obtained a copy of the script from a source inside the production and verified the players’ claims.

The film — currently titled Black Spartans — is now at a standstill. Shooting wrapped last year, but it’s still without a distributor to get it in front of viewers with a theatrical release or sale to a streaming service.

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