June 18 (UPI) -- The University of Florida is ending its "Gator Bait" cheer at football games and other sporting events because of "historic racist imagery associated with the phrase," the school announced Thursday.
"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," school president Kent Fuchs said in a statement. "Accordingly, university athletics and the Gator Band will discontinue the use of the cheer."
The university's sports teams in the Southeastern Conference are nicknamed the Gators. In past seasons, the school's band would play the "Gator Bait" tune and fans would respond by making a chomping motion with their arms while shouting the term.
African American children were sometimes used as alligator bait in the late 1800s and early 1900s, according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. The term "alligator bait" also was used as a racial slur against African Americans.
While some celebrated the school's decision to discontinue the cheer, others spoke out in opposition.
Lawrence Wright, who is credited with popularizing the phrase, "If you ain't a Gator, ya Gator bait, baby," after saying it following a win over rival Florida State in 1995, told the Gainesville Sun he was upset with his alma mater's choice to ban the cheer.
Wright, 46, played safety at Florida from 1993-96. He was a second-team All-American in 1995 and was named first-team All-SEC in 1995 and 1996.
"I'm not going for it," Wright told the newspaper. "I created something for us. It's a college football thing. It's not a racist thing. It's about us, the Gator Nation. And I'm black. What about our history as the Gator Nation? We took a program from the top five to No. 1 in the country.
"I think I've done enough, put in the sweat and tears, to get to offer my opinion about something like this."
The removal of the "Gator Bait" cheer was just one of many actions announced by Fuchs as part of a three-point plan to address racism at the school. He also said the university will remove monuments and names that celebrate the Confederacy.