The University of Missouri has been thrust in the national spotlight for a number of racially-charged events that have occurred on its Columbia campus. However, a majority of the nation lived in blissful ignorance about the situation until the school’s football team got involved.
Let’s backtrack a little bit, with help from the Sports Illustrated article from Nov. 9, titled, “Why Missouri’s football team joined a protest against school administration.”
Mizzou has been struggling with racial tension on its main campus since the beginning of the school year. Things began to really heat up when the university system’s president Tim Wolfe bumped a protester at the Missouri homecoming parade.
Ten days after the parade incident, “Concerned Student 1950” formed as the main group of protesters, paying tribute to the first year that black students were admitted to the school. The group issued a list of demands, including a call for Wolfe’s firing, increased diversity training on campus and a better representation of minorities on university staff.
On Nov. 2, Mizzou graduate student Jonathan Butler wrote a letter to the university that he was beginning a hunger strike until the president was removed from office or until the hunger strike killed him.
Butler’s idea was that the hunger strike was the only way to get the school’s administration to address the unanswered racial issues.
That’s when the football team stepped in.
In support of Butler’s hunger strike, a group of black football players announced that they would not participate in any football activities until Wolfe was removed from his office. This announcement came on Nov. 7.
One day later, Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel came out with his support for his striking players, saying that the whole team was united behind the protest.
The Missouri athletic department, along with Pinkel, released an official statement which said, “Our focus right now is on the health of Jonathan Butler, the concerns of our student-athletes and working with our community to address this serious issue. After meeting with the team this morning, it is clear they do not plan to return to practice until Jonathan resumes eating.”
Wolfe resigned as president of the University of Missouri system Nov. 9, two days after the football team began its protest. Football activities resumed Nov. 10. Coincidence? I think not.
Mizzou competes in the Southeastern Conference, which is the most powerful football conference in Division I. The SEC has an extremely loyal fan base and attracts millions of dollars in advertising. While the Tigers have a lowly record of 4-5 this year (at the time this column is written), the team still has a lot of power as has been clearly demonstrated.
While I applaud the student-athletes for standing up for a cause about which they feel convicted, I question the amount of power that one team holds in any situation off the field.
ESPN obtained a quote from an anonymous Missouri football player who said, “As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches – black and white – are pissed. If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.”
I see two red flags with that statement. First of all, if the team was not fully united and was still able to wield the power needed to help force the university system president out of office, that’s concerning to me. That team has too much power.
Secondly, if the team was undefeated and competing for an SEC title, does that mean the team wouldn’t have protested? Is a title more important than standing up for human rights? Or would the team still have protested, forcing the university to act even faster in removing Wolfe in order to get the team back on the field? Both options are reasonable assumptions and both are concerning to me.
There needs to be more restrictions when it comes to teams that wield this much power, especially collegiate teams.
Missouri is not the first football team to go on strike and, unfortunately, I can almost guarantee that it won’t be the last.