The Ironies of the Arena, University, and Prejudice

One of the several ironies facing completion of the Arena was the way that the principled good intentions of the University of Dayton collided with the realities of the institution. UD’s approach to race often stood in marked contrast to the long history of racial inequality in the city. By at least 1947, the university was firmly committed to racial integration while in Dayton explicit and then de facto racial segregation has been enforced for much of the 20th century. [64] It was not until United States Supreme Court decision in the Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman, case handed down in June 27, 1977, that the city was forced to end a litany of discriminatory policies that all but enforced segregation in its public schools.

UD’s relatively progressive effort on the issue of racial justice was rooted in its Marianist tradition. One of the principle teachings of the order stresses the engagement with the local community. Another emphasizes the responsibility of actively working to solve its specific injustices. Yet another potential reason for the university’s regional lead in ending educational segregation was its own experience the as a target of bigotry. As a Catholic institution, the city’s large and influential chapter of the Ku Klux Klan sponsored violent protests against the school. In the 1920s, for example, the university was the target of numerous bomb threats. [65] Indeed, the lingering anti-Catholic prejudice against the university among some Protestants in the region led to support for a petition initiated by local ministers to prevent the city from entering into the land agreement with U.D. to allow it to build the arena in the Carillon district. Opposition also came from “The American United for the Separation of Church and State” which produced a 1,000 signature petitioner opposing the city helping UD. [66]

Following the riot of 1966 President Roesch played a significant role in community efforts to ease racial tensions. One of several strategies was the creation of the Area Progress Council-Negro Committee (APC-Negro). Chaired by Roesch, the council was composed of prominent black and white leaders. In a small but nonetheless significant action that reflected Roesch’s sensitivity to breaking down prevailing barriers between races, upon assuming this role Roesch specified that plans to seat black and white members upon opposite sides of the table was unacceptable. [67] Local businessmen understood how important it was for their own survival to solve these problems, leading them to give Roesch a seat on Area Progress Council in hopes of helping them to take matters in hand. “This man was everywhere leading people to talk to each other,” said one black leader of Roesch. [68] Indeed, given the close proximity between documents related to the development of the arena and clipped copies of newspaper and magazine articles that dwelled upon the city’s problems of racial conflict within the Presidents papers, it seems that Roesch considered the university’s arena project a means of both improving the economic problems at the root of these racial issues and helping to heal the city in more symbolic ways.

And yet the events of 1967-1968 team and those surrounding the construction of the university’s new basketball home reflected the complexities and inconsistencies of the institution’s better intentions. While the university championed desegregation, inclusiveness, and a commitment to community, these ideals all too often fell short in practice. The location chosen for the arena offered a case in point. Although the university might have sought to maximize the benefits of its construction to the wider community by building closer to the downtown, it did not. Tracts of land more contiguous to campus were not pursued because the arena would have been disruptive to the far more influential inhabitants that lived adjacent to them (and such lands would have proved far more-costly for the university to acquire). [69] Ultimately, the negative implications of the arena’s construction—increased traffic, noise, and spatial fragmentation of the community—fell heavily on the working class minorities who lived in the Carillon, Edgemont, and Five Point neighborhoods. Today those areas remain largely black: Carillon 83.4%, Edgemont 97.5%, and Five Points 88.5%. [70]

“Map of Race and Ethnicity by Neighborhood in Dayton” Source:, retrieved July 25, 2018.

In the coming years the arena’s burden on the local community would become a lasting point of contention. To the university’s credit, UD seeks to address this issue by holding annual meetings with its neighbors. Nonetheless, it is also fair to ask who the arena actually served. While the venue was racially integrated and vastly expanded the seats available to Daytonians, proportionally fewer black Daytonians regularly attended games. According to the manager of ticket sales Gary McCans who began to work at the Univesity in 1968 and retired in 2016, when the arena opened in 1970 approximately 98% of season ticket holders that first year were white in a city that was over 40% black. Fifty years later, McCans estimated that approximately 80% of the season tickets are still held by white Daytonians. [71]


The Waterman Affair

In 1968 the events surrounding the public exposure of the troubles on the team encapsulated the contradictions between the ideals and realities of UD at the time. On February 28, 1968, Rudy Waterman attended a campus meeting titled “Black Student Views of UD,” as part of a week-long conference organized by UD students called “Crises in Black and White.” [72] One black female student described the bias she encountered on campus. When her comments were received with skepticism by some white attendees, the typically quiet Waterman, who all the students knew because of his exploits on the basketball court, spoke up in her defense. Waterman explained that he not only encountered racism on campus but also through playing basketball. His only specific charge was failure to be given a fair opportunity to start.

On campus that day was a local Dayton media personality named Phil Donahue (1935-present) filming an episode of his new TV show. The Phil Donahue Show, which had debuted in November of 1967 on Dayton’s Channel 2, was still in its infancy but ultimately evolved into a new type of program, a live daytime talk show. Many of Donahue’s broadcasts revolved around lighted-hearted issues featuring well-known cooks, yoga instructors, or celebrities. But Donahue’s most explosive episodes tackled hot-button issues: atheism, homosexuality, crime, incarceration, drugs, and – in the case of the Waterman’s appearance – race relations. It was a hit formula. A decade later, Donahue wrote in his best selling autobiography that he believed his show took off because “America was in crisis. Blacks were burning cities […] and a whole lot of people were beginning to wonder whether Vietnam was a good idea.” In 1970 the program went national and established what has become a commonplace format in daytime broadcasting. Oprah Winfrey (1954-present) gave credit to Donahue for opening “the door for all of us” who had success in the daytime talk show format, but more importantly, “I respect his choice to have raised issues that truly impact our families and the world we live in.” [74]

Donahue sitting with students during the “Crises in Black and White” symposium, Daytonian 1968, vol. 23, 181

Donahue was hoping to capture some of the discussion about race. Waterman reiterated the charges when sought out by the Donohue, adding that he felt inadequate support from Coach Donoher. Although he did not speak with Donohue, Torain was also present that day, and expressed frustration to another reporter. Commenting on the reason he no longer spoke with his teammates or worked for his coach, Torain declared, “I’m not a Christian. If people don’t treat me right, I am not going to treat them right”. [75] Torain was of course referring to the phrase in Christian doctrine, derived from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-42), that counseled responding to injury without revenge by turning the other cheek. By the next day Waterman’s comments became an Associated Press national story.

“U.D. Official Blasts Waterman Outburst” Source: “U.D. Officials Blast Waterman Outburst”, Box 12, Basketball Scrapbook 1967-1968 II, Basketball Scrapbooks, 1951-1967, University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections, University of Dayton.

In Dayton, and elsewhere, white reaction to Waterman’s statements followed a similar pattern. Newspapers took Waterman to task, insinuating his complaints were a motivated by his resentment for not receiving more playing time. In “Dayton Negro Cager Feels Discrimination” from Portsmouth Times, Waterman’s complaint that his coach had failed to give him “pats on the back” were highlighted to characterize his charges as nothing more than a childish tantrum. [76] Another striking feature of these responses was their disregard of the charge of racism, focusing instead on Waterman’s declaration that he no longer gave “105 percent effort”. [77] Waterman’s failure to do what was expected of him appeared to be the greatest crime of the entire situation. In his editorial titled “New Negro Slogan is ‘Cry, Baby, Cry,’” Ray Dabblet argued that Waterman’s complaints were little more than excuses for his poor performance on the court. [78] Campus officials responded not by investigating the charges but by “blasting” Waterman for talking to the press and defending the university by pointing out its generosity in providing African-American athletes with scholarships worth $2000 (approximately $15,000 in 2018 inflation adjusted dollars). [79] All fit the long history of racist tropes depicting African-Americans as childlike, lazy, and ungrateful takers of benevolent white charity.

Consequences for People and the Program

Whatever did or did not happen in this affair, the events affected the lives of all those involved and the UD basketball program. Though there were immediate calls for Waterman and Torain to be dismissed from the team, Coach Donoher did not do that. Both continued to travel with the squad, though their playing time declined even further. At the time and in later years Coach Donoher remained largely silent on the matter, expressing in our interview and others his belief that the incident was “a personal affair.” Torain played professional basketball in Europe and lives today in Belgium where he maintains his distance from inquires about his days at UD. [80] In evident pain, Coach Donoher related Waterman’s life after completing his senior year. Following a brief stint in the ABA, Waterman had trouble finding and keeping consistent work. In 1977 he visited Dayton on his way to Chicago for a job and he reconciled with Donoher. Later, Donoher visited Waterman when the Flyers traveled to play DePaul. Eventually, however, Waterman’s marriage dissolved and he drifted back to his hometown of New York City. With no family and few prospects, Waterman developed a drug problem and on February 21, 1981 committed suicide. While he lingered from the gunshot, Coach Donoher visited him in the Upper Manhattan hospital. “There was no one there,” Donoher recalled sadly, “His head was all bandaged up and he was in a coma.” Donoher stayed there until he died. [81]

The events also had an immediate consequence for UD and its basketball program. News of the controversy soured support for the school and its teams among black Daytonians. Local players such as Donald Smith [1951-2004] remember being warned. “I was aware of the stories about racism on campus,” he told Ritter. [82] A highly recruited high school All-American guard, Smith eventually signed with UD in 1970. The presence of the burly George Jackson [1945-2014] on the 1969-1970 team likely helped convince Smith the prevailing view of the school was wrong. Jackson, the first black player to join the team after the Waterman-Torain incident, was a local Roth High School graduate who had played basketball at a Texas Junior college before returning to Dayton. “For everything he did on the floor, George meant more to UD basketball by just coming to the school,” Coach Donoher told Dayton Daily reporter Tom Archdeacon. “At the time he came we had zero black kids on the team, and it had been a bleak history. We had gone through Roger Brown and Henry Burlong. We lost Jerry Francis and had the deal with Glinder (Torain) and Rudy (Waterman).” George changed all that Donoher explained, “When George came to UD, our name out in West Dayton was mud. It took a lot for him to come here, but that opened the door and Donald Smith came and J.D. Grigsby, too. And that led to the Detroit connection (Allen Ellijah, Johnny Davis, Leighton Moulton and Erv Giddings.)” [83]. The next year Smith signed with Dayton and his close white friend power forward Mike Sylvester from Cincinnati joined him on campus. The two helped dispel what remained of the rumors.