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Who Was Doak Campbell? Explaining FSU’s Controversial Stadium Namesake
Wikimedia Commons (left), Photo by Florida State/Collegiate Images via Getty Images (right)

If you know anything about the Florida State Seminoles football team, you know the only place to be for home games is at Doak Campbell Stadium. But who is Doak Campbell anyways, and why is the stadium named after him?

Campbell, who was once the president at Florida State University, not only oversaw the building of the football stadium, but probably the most important change in the school’s long and storied history. But there is some controversy that comes along with Doak Campbell, which has prompted some to question whether FSU should rename its stadium.

Who Was Doak Campbell?

RELATED: Why Florida State Can Keep Using Chief Osceola & Renegade as Symbols

Doak Campbell first served as a college president in 1920 at Central College in Conway, Arkansas. He then attended George Peabody College for Teachers where he received both his Masters and Ph.D. by 1930. After working on the faculty, he was hired as the Dean of the Graduate School in 1938, a position he held until being hired as the President of FSU in 1941.

When he arrived on campus to become the school’s president in 1941, the name of the school was The Florida State College for Women, and it would stay that way until May 15, 1947 when it was officially renamed Florida State University.

With the end of World War II and men returning from the war, Campbell worked to get the school’s athletics back and restarted the Florida State college football program that hadn’t been on campus since 1905 when it was reclassified as a woman’s school.

With football being played in Tallahassee again, Campbell set out to build a stadium for the team to play in, which was rightfully named after the man who brought sports back to the school. The ‘Noles have been playing home games in Doak Campbell Stadium ever since.

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For the first few seasons until that new stadium was built, the Seminoles played at Centennial Field on South Monroe Street in Tallahassee.

In November of 2004, the stadium’s field was named after a second FSU great, Bobby Bowden. The head football coach received the honor of after leading FSU to two national championships, 12 ACC titles and 28-straight bowl games. Today, it’s known as Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Campbell’s Pro-Segregation Views

As ESPN noted, Campbell was “against the admission of black students on campus and was adamantly against integration.”

The Tallahassee Democrat also reported that back in 1957, Campbell expelled an FSU graduate student named John Boardman for bringing three FAMU students to a campus Christmas party, which was against school rules back then. Additionally, during a time when FSU had no black students, Campbell “discouraged FSU students from getting involved in social protests by FAMU students at the time.”

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Search Doak Sheridan Campbell’s official bio on Florida State’s website and you’ll find no mention of any of this.

His grandson, Doak Campbell III, maintained his grandfather was not a segregationist in an interview with the Palm Beach Post.

“I’m extremely disappointed that somebody is trying to change the name,” Campbell III said. “It sounds like he was trying to keep the school from being embroiled in a hot political topic that might have adverse consequences. He was not promoting segregation. He was concerned about protecting the tranquility of the school and not let it be dragged into something whether he believed it or not.

“That was his primary concern. As long as I knew him, he never professed that segregationism was something that was good. He was always promoting the advancement of black education.”

This all begs the question: should FSU change the stadium’s name?

Should FSU Rename Its Stadium?

In 2020, a former FSU football linebacker named Kendrick Scott began a petition to change the name of FSU’s stadium because of Campbell’s pro-segregation views while he served as president of the school.

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“The stadium at FSU was named after Doak Campbell a former FSU President. While, the tradition has been preserved, in reflection his non inclusive views of blacks as an segregationist is divisive, therefore his name should be removed from a stadium that has been home to many Black football players helping to build the school and the tradition to what it has become today: a national treasure,” the petition reads.

“Therefore, this petition seeks to change the name of the stadium to the Bobby Bowden Stadium and change Bobby Bowden field to Charlie Ward field. Charlie Ward was recently polled as the greatest Seminole of all time and rightfully so. He broke a modern day color barrier by being the first Black football player to win a Heisman Trophy at a Florida School. He remains the most decorated college football player in history.”

So, essentially, Scott’s proposal would have changed it from Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium to Charlie Ward Field at Bobby Bowden Stadium. That would be a nice sentiment following the death of coach Bobby Bowden.

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In March 2021, Florida State had lengthy discussions about whether to keep the Campbell’s name on the stadium. The school’s anti-racism task force panel voted to reject a recommendation by FSU history professor and subcommittee chair Maxine Jones to keep the Doak Campbell name on the stadium.

Doak Campbell Stadium History

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The stadium is currently the second largest in the ACC behind only Clemson, and it’s the 19th largest in all of NCAA football. It is also the second largest in the state just behind Ben Hill Griffin at the University of Florida. But when it was first built and completed back in 1950, it was nowhere near the size it is today.

On the first game day in Doak S. Campbell Stadium — led by head coach Ed Williamson on the sideline — the Florida State Seminoles could only host 15,000 people when they beat the Randolph-Macon College Yellow Jackets, 40-7. It has experience multiple expanses since then and now holds 79,560 screaming fans.

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The record for attendance at Doak Campbell is 84,409 when Florida State football played the Miami Hurricanes in 2013, winning 41-14, and three of the stadium’s top four attendance records came when hosting rival Miami. The second highest attendance came against then-No. 1 Oklahoma (2011) while the rest of the top 10 is rounded out by Florida, Virginia, Notre Dame and North Carolina State Wolfpack.

The stadium doesn’t just hold the field for football games though. It also has quite a few parts within the brick facade. The whole University Center has four parts that house numerous offices, classrooms and branches of the school.

The newest features from renovations inside the stadium are the scoreboards in the north end zone that are 100 feet tall, while the one in the south end zone measures in at 45 feet. The south end zone also is home to the Champions Club, which includes private entrances, food and drink service in chair-back seats and covered rooftops with cabanas.

Closest to the south end zone of the stadium on Stadium Drive, there is a statue of Chief Osceola and Renegade. Even though Campbell wasn’t alive to see the signature duo ride through his stadium when they were introduced five years after his death, he is the reason there is a stadium they can ride though today.

MORE: The 7 Best Wide Receivers in Florida State History, Ranked

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Patrick covered the Florida Gators during the forgettable Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain eras before spending two seasons writing for Major League Baseball. He's a baseball junkie who spends his days defending Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins. He lives in South Florida but his heart belongs in Gainesville, Florida.
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