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This "Betty" won't play anymore

Traditional song at hockey games cited for racism

Published: Monday, January 23, 2006

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

The sounds of Saturday night's men's hockey game against UMass included the usual display of cheers, chants and energetic music, but a certain song was missing, and its disappearance was not by coincidence.

Black Betty, the popular song by Ram Jam, which has been a staple of UNH hockey games, has been banned due to complaints regarding racism, according to Marty Scarano, director of athletics.

The University has received a number of complaints over the years, including one from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This year, someone "more significant" raised the issue that the song is "theoretically racist," Scarano said. He would not comment on the individual's identity.

"UNH is not going to stand for something that insults any segment of society," Scarano said. He also added that this issue has been "brewing for a long time."

But Scarano said the ban shouldn't "minimize the atmosphere" at hockey games, adding that fans can simply cheer to illustrate school pride.

"We're not a professional franchise; we need to take a close look at those things," Scarano said. " I don't want [this] to be something that people fixate on…the ruination of UNH hockey…because it's certainly not that."

Noah Smith, media relations director for the Hockey East Association, said that the organization received general complaints regarding the playing of "Black Betty" at UNH. Hockey East and UNH athletic administrators held an "informal discussion" and "both agreed [the song] was inappropriate," Smith said. Ultimately, the athletic administration made the call to remove "Black Betty."

"Hockey East doesn't have any jurisdiction," Smith said. The ban was upheld beginning several weeks ago. Smith said the series of men's home games versus Vermont the weekend of Jan. 6 was the first time he knew of that "Black Betty" was removed.

On campus, the controversy has fueled student-driven apparel, a Web site and even a group on the popular student-oriented Facebook, all of which are dedicated to saving the song.

Freshmen Ryan Leach and Julia Knight have designed "Save Black Betty" T-shirts, which they wore to Saturday night's game, and are intent on making them available to the public for purchase.

"It's our school trying to be overly-politically correct," Leach said. Knight agreed.

"Black Betty is a wonderful tradition [that's been] going on for years and we should keep it that way," Knight said, who added that she and others have e-mailed the athletic administration.

Knight said the e-mailed reply she received was, "'The University doesn't want to re-visit the issue.'"

But there are others, like Berwick, Maine resident Stan Hersey, who had a different perspective. A season-ticket holder since the Whittemore Center first opened, Hersey said he is familiar with the song, but had never really listened to the words.

"I know it says 'Black Betty' [but] I didn't realize…if it's offensive, it's unfortunate and maybe it should be banned," Hersey said.

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, "Black Betty" is a 20th century African-American work song. It was recorded with several other artists prior to Ram Jam's successful cover in 1977. Although the song became an instant hit on the singles charts, the lyrics simultaneously created a boycott by NACCP and the Congress of Racial Equality, who claimed the song insulted African-American women.

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