NFL stars call on Clemson University to sever all ties with John C. Calhoun, the slave-owning former US vice president whose plantation became its campus

Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and thousands others have called on Clemson University to rename some of its facilities, notably the Honors College program, that bear the name of slaveholder John C. Calhoun.

Clemson University was built on the plantation of former Vice President Calhoun. Known for defending slavery and owning about 80 slaves himself, Calhoun has become a controversial name on Clemson’s campus, where it is featured throughout, notably as the name of the school’s Honors College.

And many have had enough.

Last week, a Clemson student began a Change.org petition calling on the renaming of the Calhoun Honors College, which has already garnered over 12,500 signatures.

And on Monday, DeAndre Hopkins, a wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, condemned the his alma mater on Instagram for continuing to honor Calhoun’s name — writing that it is one of the reasons he doesn’t mention Clemson before NFL games.

“I felt this oppressive figure during my time at Clemson and purposely do not mention the University’s name before NFL games because of it,” he wrote. “I am joining the voices of the students and faculty who have restarted this petition to rename the Calhoun Honors College. I urge all Clemson students, football players, and alumni to join us, so the next generation of young Black leaders can be proud of the institution they graduate from.”

Deshaun Watson, also a graduate of Clemson, joined Hopkins on Twitter, saying Calhoun’s name should be removed from any property and programming.

“Clemson University should not honor slave owner John C. Calhoun in any way,” he wrote.

The debate around Calhoun’s presence on Clemson’s campus is not a new one. But it has been revived as discussions around race and the legacy of slavery have risen after the death of George Floyd while in custody of four Minneapolis police officers.

The description of the petition says Calhoun “exemplifies institutional racism and white supremacy,” for his role in advocating for slavery.

In a statement to CNN, Vice President for University Relations Mark Land said the university is aware of the current petition and “respects the views of those bringing the issue forward in this manner.”

“The University continues to engage in how best to build on our recent initiatives designed to make Clemson a place where all our students, employees and guests feel welcome at all times. This issue will be part of that effort,” the statement read.

Clemson University is not the only college to come under scrutiny in recent years.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced in 2018 it would change the plaques honoring William R. Kenan Sr. on Kenan Memorial Stadium to honor his son, William R. Kenan Jr., who made the gift.

Kenan Sr. played a role in the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898, when a group of white militia rose up in a coup, terrorizing and killing black residents and business owners, according to the UNC’s Daily Tar Heel student-run newspaper.