Alabama tight end O.J. Howard has faced plenty of difficulties while in Tuscaloosa, but none has likely been as difficult as the one he faced as a junior in high school at Autauga Academy (Prattville, Ala.).
Howard, who at the time was one of the best tight end prospects in the nation, was told in 2011 by then-headmaster Gene Carter that he, a black student, could not take his white girlfriend to the school prom.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Lamesa Howard, O.J.’s mother, told Joseph Goodman of al.com in an extensive and well-reported feature penned about the Alabama standout. “It hurt so bad.”
The news, which brought O.J. Howard to tears, caused an uproar at the Alabama school, which according to Goodman was originally founded in 1969 as a “segregation academy” intended to impede U.S. integration law.
When Lamesa Howard confronted Carter at the school, he informed her that the board of directors had instructed him to deliver the news to her son. When the parents confronted the board during an emergency executive meeting that same day, none took responsibility for giving the instructions.
Carter later called a school-wide assembly to apologize, then went on unpaid leave for three weeks. The parents have since found who on the board of directors was responsible for giving him the directive.
O.J. was ultimately allowed to invite his girlfriend to prom, and his sister, Shabria, went with a white male student. But that wasn’t all. Lamesa and her husband Kareem Howard both attended as well, with the parents of O.J.’s girlfriend.
O.J. declined comment to AL.com, though his parents say the family has no animosity toward Autauga Academy today.
Howard has since gone on to do great things at Alabama, highlighted by his 208-yard, two-touchdown performance in Alabama’s national title game victory against Clemson. And now, collegiate exploits will soon earn him a permanent mark in his hometown: The road outside Autauga Academy will soon turn into 88 O.J. Howard Lane.