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How Anthony Hamilton Jr. Wants to Save Clemson’s Men’s Track and Field Program

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Earlier this month, Clemson’s athletic department announced the decision to cut the men’s track and field and cross country programs after the 2020-21 academic year. Athletic director Dan Radakovich said it came as a measure that will save $2 million per year and would help other Olympic sports on campus survive. The men’s track and field/cross-country team features 51 athletes and has produced 22 Olympians and 16 NCAA titles since it was first offered up in 1953.

In the wake of the announcement, Sportico’s Eben Nov-Williams took a deep dive into Clemson’s budgeting and accounting to try and make sense of the move. A Change.org petition addressed to Radakovich now has more than 30,000 signatures to try and save the program. This past weekend, supporters protested on campus wearing shirts that said “Unity?”

One of the most outspoken athletes in the fight to save the team has been jumper Anthony Hamilton Jr. He might have the biggest following with more than 81K Instagram followers and 112.9K TikTok followers thanks to his insanely cool basketball dunks. We caught up on Monday to discuss his reaction to the program getting cut, what conversations have taken place with members of the athletic department and more. You can listen to our entire conversation + some backstory into how he got involved in track and field just three years ago on the latest episode of The CITIUS MAG Podcast.

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INTERVIEW EXCERPTS

Where he was and his initial reaction to the announcement that men’s track and field was getting cut:

“The day that it happened it was really weird. It happened so fast. I got an email and it was from (Athletic Director) Dan [Radakovich] and it said emergency meeting. I knew it was serious when it said that if we had class we’ll give you an excuse. Come. You’re missing class. You’re missing tutoring. You’re going to come to this meeting. I was like OK. I called one of my female teammates and she didn’t get the same email as me. I’m like OK…now I start thinking I’m in trouble myself and thinking, ‘What did I do?’ We got up there and they sat us down in the volleyball gym where there was a podium set up. I kind of had an idea when I sat down. I had to really think about it and then, ‘I know what’s going on…’ He walked in and told us. When he said it, I was in shock. It was a ‘What?! Are you serious?’ type of thing. I knew what it was going to be when I saw our coaches walk in. They learned what happened an hour before they told us. He stressed the fact that they had been working on it for months…I was just frustrated, shocked and we just focused on what we were going to do to try and overturn this.”

On meeting with AD Dan Radakovich:

“I just want to sit down with no cameras, no audio and nothing to see how he really feels about it. I had a meeting with the assistant athletic director Graham Neff. He’s a really cool guy. We sat down for an hour and he broke everything down to me about why they did it, alternatives and stuff like that. He told me he’s there if I really needed anything…With Dan, it’s the same thing: how he feels about it and what can possibly be done to save it or what we need to do.”

What were the reasons given to you why and did they make sense to you?

“It did. Some parts did and some parts didn’t. The reasons why it made sense were backed by charts, numbers and all types of stuff like that. From a business perspective, I understood it. Previously, prior to me coming here, they had been stressing how we’re not a family that’s focused on the dollar signs. If you’re a Tiger then you’re a Tiger. We’re all family. We all work together and work hard. We have a combined 23 ACC championships, appearances at the national championships every year and we’re doing our job..I can’t really go too deep into detail about what we talked about but he told me they talked about cutting rosters on every team to do so. That wouldn’t have worked. They talked about adding a female team like beach volleyball and that didn’t work because they don’t have the funds for it obviously. I just wondered, ‘How? How do we not have the funds?’”

How do you instill hope among teammates and alums in the conversations that you’re having? 

“When we’re talking about such a prestigious school, such a diverse program and such a successful program with Olympic athletes, it’s not only hurting us as athletes. It’s hurting these students that dream to come here, run and get out of their situations. We’re talking about the whole track community. Our sport is dying. It’s slowly dying. What I tried to explain to my team is that if they can move the Olympic Games – that’s been consistent for decades and centuries – that means our sport is in jeopardy…We’re fighting for the sport. I haven’t been in the sport for long but I’ve gained a love for it. I’m just trying to do all that I can to get this overturned if that’s a possibility. I just don’t like being told no at the end of the day. I’m going to try regardless.”

From the announcement: “In our long-term planning, we looked at the changing demographics of the Clemson campus. Of Clemson’s men’s  sports, only men’s track and field and cross country could provide the Department with both substantial cost savings  as well as the ability for long-term Title IX compliance.”

A friend of mine later texted me saying that by his count he determined the following from Clemson’s men’s non-revenue sports: 20 Black track athletes, 8 Black soccer players, 2 Black baseball players, 1 Black cross country runner, 0 Black tennis players, 0 Black golfers. So that means 21 of 31 Black athletes in these sports have been cut with the elimination of men’s track and field and cross country.

What’s your reaction to hearing those numbers?

“We actually have been giving out fact sheets and that number is actually 67% of non-revenue generating Black athletes. I just feel like that’s a big number to play with. It’s shocking to me. I feel like there are so many different ways that this could be handled even if this is a ‘future problem.’ It might not be a problem right now but with Title IX, they’re saying it’s going to be a future problem and they’re doing this right now. It could have been something that was progressively changing. They could have altered how we recruit or there are so many different ways they could’ve gone about this. When I see those numbers I think, ‘Well, we’re already a predominantly white institution. This is only going to add on to that.’ It’s giving less opportunity to a more diverse sport in the sports world – one of the most diverse sports ever created. It just hurts to see that.”

Responding to when people point out head football coach Dabo Swinney’s salary and how much the football team’s facilities costs

“Some of my closest friends are on the football team. They work hard. They deserve everything that they get. It just frustrates me when people immediately point them out and blame them. Those are my brothers. That’s business. If you’re successful, you’re going to get paid. They’ve won multiple national championships. They have some of the best athletes in the countries and the world. They go on to do their thing in pro leagues. Every dollar that they get is earned. I feel like when it comes to saving a program that’s been here alongside them and also a successful program, I feel like there’s a way it can be saved if we’re talking about $2 million a year. I have nothing against the football team. Those are my brothers. I would never put football and our track team getting cut in the same conversation. They earned what they get. They get what they earn. They’re a great team.”

It’s tough to compare school to school but at William & Mary, the women’s team put a lot of pressure by saying that they were not going to compete unless the men’s team got reinstated. From your conversations with teammates, how are they taking this and have there been any conversations like that at Clemson?

“Our women have done a great job of standing by us through everything. We are one team. We are one family. A lot of these athletes have been doing track their whole lives. I’m probably one of the only ones that started late in college. All track teams have both genders. Hands down. That’s like saying on a basketball team, there’s no assistant coaches or team managers and it’s just the head coach and the players. It feels awkward. There’s no connection. There’s no family. They also feel like you’re breaking a piece of our family off. It’s not the same. We can either fight to save this or go somewhere else. I know if we’re at the minimum for teams on a Division I campus or something like that and they don’t compete, we’re not Division I anymore because we’re below the limit. I don’t know if it’s going to go to that extreme. They’re frustrated just like we are. They’re right along with us and they’re going to do the same until this gets reinstated.”

What are the coaches saying? They’re in a tough spot because it’s their bosses making the decisions. This movement feels like it’s very much athlete-led.

“It’s so tough. We know they want to support us so badly. They put them in a stressful position. Even with our media team…Everybody wants to support us that works for them and these are their bosses but they can’t really say anything that would jeopardize how they provide for their families or their jobs on how they plan to move forward after this. Me and a few of my teammates took the lead with this and we’re going to be the faces of it. We’re going to make sure we’re doing what needs to get done. We’re meeting with people. We’re going to have these protests and we’re going to kill it this season. I think us killing it this season, going crazy and winning. That will be the topper on the cake for it. If they cut us after that, it’s like we did everything we could do.”

How’s training been going amid this? There are two approaches you could have taken. You could mail it in and be totally stressed out about it or you could take this as motivation. 

“I’m a very motivated and driven person. I was already motivated when I was ranked third in the ACC but finished eighth because I got disqualified for something I didn’t do. On top of that, outdoors got canceled. I haven’t stopped training since March. Since they sent me home, I have not stopped training. I have trained every single day since that day. This kind of tripled my frustration. Training’s been going amazing. Our jumps group probably looks the best it has been in years compared to when I first got here. The sprinters look really good. Everybody is looking very motivated and driven. It’s either we’re going to do it or not. Our back is against the wall. We have no choice. I feel like this season, especially now that we have this awkward attention on us, we have to perform. We have no choice but to do so.”


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