The Uprising at Missouri (Update: Wolfe has resigned)

(According to multiple media reports, after earlier denials, President Wolfe is stepping down. Fascinating implications for college athletes’ understanding of the cards they hold).

Conflict over a string of racist incidents on the main campus of the University of Missouri threatens to boil over. Over thirty players on the Tigers’ football team have vowed that they will no longer participate in any football-related activities until the president of the four-campus state system, Tim Wolfe, steps down.

According to CNN:

The long-simmering discussion began to boil over this fall, when the African-American student body president spoke out about racism on campus, according to media reports.

Later, a group of African-American students complained that a school safety officer didn’t more aggressively pursue an apparently drunken white student who disrupted their gathering and used a racial slur in addressing them.

African-American students then disrupted the school’s homecoming parade on October 10, blocking Wolfe’s car in a protest calling for greater action on the part of administrators….

They accused Wolfe of looking on impassively and said his car struck one of the protesters. No one was injured, but protesters accused police of using excessive force to disperse protesters.

The top official at the Missouri campus, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, ordered mandatory sensitivity training for faculty and students, and Wolfe later apologized.

“Racism does exist at our university, and it is unacceptable,” he said.

African-American students said the gestures were insufficient and issued a set of demands calling for school officials to implement broader cultural sensitivity training, increase minority staffing and take other steps.

A few very quick notes:

  • Missouri is not having a good year on the field and this has become a talking point among those opposed to the actions of this group of players.
  • The Tigers are, nevertheless, a “relevant” big-time football program. Just two years ago, they finished as the fifth-ranked team in the country and they play in the nation’s premier football conference, the SEC.
  • Missouri’s head football coach, Gary Pinkel, has come out in strong support of these players. Pinkel was Michael Sam’s coach when Sam first came out a little under two years ago and Pinkel conducted himself in exemplary fashion at that time.
  • Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at Mizzou, has been at the center of the growing crisis on campus. He’s a campus student leader (not an athlete) and began a hunger strike a week ago, demanding Wolfe’s resignation. Dave Zirin has more here.

I will devote more time to this and, in particular, media coverage of it over the course of this week.

For now, here’s a statement put out by CARE-FC, a group with which I am affiliated:

CARE-FC Statement in Support of University of Missouri Black Football Players

On Saturday evening, November 7, more than 30 black members of the University of Missouri football team announced that they would boycott team activities in protest over the mishandling of racial incidents at the University.  The College Athletes Rights and Empowerment Faculty Coalition (CARE-FC) is a national coalition of faculty concerned with the academic and economic mistreatment of college athletes in the profit sports of football and basketball.  We stand with and in support of the black players on the University of Missouri football team who acted out of conscience and power of their convictions to use the platform of their positions to amplify attention to the efforts of the Concerned Students 1950 movement, as well as to improve the welfare of all students across campus who have faced adversity, including graduate students. We also express our deep concern for the welfare of Jonathan Butler.  His extraordinary leadership has fueled a world-wide reaction to the issues raised by students of color at the University of Missouri.  We hope for his safety and urge the University of Missouri to create systematic changes to produce an equal academic environment for all.

We also hope that the public, administration, and athletic department at the University of Missouri will not conduct any form of retribution toward those who are participating in this movement.

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