In mid-June, as the pandemic surged across the country, hundreds of students were living on Liberty University’s campus. Tayvion “Tank” Land was one of them, taking a summer math class with about 10 other students—half of them his football teammates.As the saying goes, when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
One Thursday morning, class was partway through when the instructor told one of Land’s teammates that he needed a tutor. Sensing some reticence, Land said, the instructor followed up with an attempt at a joke. “Don’t be scared,” he allegedly told the player. “I’m not going to pull out my whip and hit you with it.”
Land and his teammate are Black, the instructor is white, and the joke came during a period of intense scrutiny of the way Black people are treated in this country, and of the unwelcoming atmosphere Black students face at Liberty in particular. In fact, Asia Todd, a top freshman on Liberty’s women’s basketball team, had announced earlier that month that she was transferring “due to the racial insensitivities shown within the leadership and culture” at the school.
Land had finally had enough, too. When I talked to him recently, he told me it was that moment in class that convinced him he had no choice but to transfer. He was done with the slights and general discomfort of being a young Black man on a campus where the student body, not to mention the population of professors and senior leadership, is overwhelmingly white.
PLEASE RESPECT MY DECISION‼️ pic.twitter.com/Ljti2CJOWb— Tayvion Land (@LandTayvion) June 22, 2020
Land’s departure was big news at Liberty, where a year before he’d been the highest-rated football recruit to ever sign with the school. His teammate, roommate, and close friend, Kei’Trel “Tre” Clark, who was also in the math class, decided to transfer as well, saying, “due to the cultural [incompetency] within multiple levels of leadership, it does not line up with my code of ethics.” On July 17, a third Black teammate announced plans to leave but didn’t specify why.
Jerry Falwell Sr., the legendary televangelist and school founder, famously talked of building a football program on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus that could someday compete against Notre Dame. “This was when all we had was a local church and rented public school buildings. Everybody thought he was crazy,” Falwell Jr. once said of his father’s early aspirations. Those dreams seemed especially improbable back then, coming only a few years after Falwell Sr. founded a K–12 school in Lynchburg that the local paper called “a private school for white students.” But Falwell Jr. has dreamed even bigger than his father, aiming to turn one of the nation’s largest Christian universities into what Notre Dame is for Catholics and BYU is for Mormons: the home team for millions of believers.
“In order for them to attract the kind of players they need to become a top Division I school, they need to go recruiting people, Black and white, who aren’t necessarily perfect fits for a place like Liberty,” said John Fea, a historian of American religion at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “They’ve gotta go beyond the megachurch youth group.”
In our conversation just before his announcement, Land made it clear that football was never a problem for him at Liberty. The training facilities at the school were top notch. He’d acquitted himself well as a freshman defensive back, playing in 11 of 13 games, including five starts, and finishing with 23 tackles. He was projected to start as a sophomore. It was everything he dealt with off the field, Land said, that made it hard for him to recommend the experience to anyone else.
The origins of Liberty "University" are steeped in racism, so it should come as no surprise that it remains a racist cesspool.