On Monday night, the Florida Gators softball team dropped the third game of a series with the Auburn Tigers it had won on Sunday, falling in a 1-0 contest and losing for the first time since its third game of the 2017 season by mustering just three hits against Auburn’s Kaylee Carlson.
But that’s not a national story.
Florida coach Tim Walton making contact with the shoulder of Auburn’s Haley Fagan in the high-five line after the game, and both player and coach jawing at each other? And doing it in full view of ESPN cameras at the end of a national broadcast?
That sure is.
Auburn shortstop Haley Fagan and Florida coach Tim Walton get into it afterwards. Fagan didn't have her hand up, Walton got her shoulder. pic.twitter.com/UJ1lH1b5Dc— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) March 28, 2017
To my eye, that video appears to show Fagan not having her hand up for a high-five from Walton, Walton — at least — making contact with her shoulder as a result, Fagan taking exception to that contact by turning and pushing Walton in the shoulder from behind, Walton saying — if I’m reading his lips correctly — “I didn’t hit you,” and Fagan remaining agitated enough to be held back by her teammates.
Fuller video, including the clip re-aired on the 11 p.m. edition of SportsCenter, makes it clear that Fagan had high-fived many Florida players prior to dropping her hand just before reaching Walton.
That alone would be a rather juicy story, if one seemingly without any context. But as longtime readers of Alligator Army know, there is context: Walton, Florida’s longtime softball coach, dismissed Fagan’s elder sisters Kasey and Sami from the Gators program in 2012 in the midst of what would be a shocking early exit from the 2012 NCAA Tournament for the No. 5 national seed.
The Fagans’ father blamed “an altercation on the team” for his daughters’ dismissal, with Sami Fagan taking to Facebook at the time to deny that they were released “because of racism or bullying,” attempting to bat down rumors that flew indicating they were involved in an altercation with then-Florida senior Michelle Moultrie, who is black. (Moultrie, for her part, said “Please don’t spread crazy rumors. They’re not true.”)
But players on that 2012 team — including eventual Women’s College World Series star Hannah Rogers — did wear blackface to a Halloween party as part of costumes meant to resemble Florida football players, and also used pictures of themselves in “Indian” costumes that featured “war paint” and feathers as part of their Twitter profiles, with Sami Fagan at least being involved in the latter incident. At a minimum, that demonstrated a cluelessness toward matters of race and racism that helped foster the rumors Fagan and Moultrie attempted to swat.
Kasey Fagan would end up transferring to Arkansas, while Sami Fagan, now playing professionally for the Akron Racers and in Japan, finished her collegiate career at Missouri. Haley Fagan, now a redshirt senior at Auburn, transferred to the school from South Alabama prior to the 2013-14 academic year.
And Kasey Fagan and Cheyenne Coyle, two of the three players dismissed by Walton nearly five years ago, are now Auburn graduate assistants.
It’s impossible to say definitively whether that history and those connections played a role in this run-in.
But to say that there is or was bad blood that flows or has flowed between several members of Auburn’s softball program and Walton would be something of an understatement. And to say that Auburn — which joyously celebrated a walk-off win over two-time defending national champion Florida in Auburn last year, despite that win, like Monday’s, only sparing the Tigers from a series sweep at the Gators’ hands — gets revved up to play Florida would also be putting things mildly.
So it’s easy to assume that the history and context matter.
Whether there is any more to this story beyond quotes meant to downplay the incident from both sides or aggressive favoriting of tweets in the near future will remain to be seen. (Fagan’s Twitter account was made private since the original publication of this post, but her “liked” tweets showed she had hit the button on dozens of supportive messages by late Monday night.)
Update: Walton apologized to Fagan in a statement issued Tuesday morning.
But you can guarantee that this will be brought up should Florida and Auburn meet in the SEC or NCAA Tournaments — and with either the Gators or Tigers appearing in the last three Women’s College World Series championship series, it seems very much possible that their next collision could come in postseason play.