Black Football Players Lend Heft to Protests at Missouri

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Black Football Players Lend Heft to Protests at Missouri

Postby admin » Sun Nov 15, 2015 12:21 am

Black Football Players Lend Heft to Protests at Missouri
by Marc Tracy and Ashley Southall
November 8, 2015

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A former University of Missouri player, L’Damian Washington, spoke to current players Sunday from his car in Columbia. Credit August Kryger for The New York Times

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Students at the University of Missouri have been demonstrating for weeks for the ouster of the university president, protesting the school’s handling of racial tensions. But their movement received a boost over the weekend when dozens of black football players issued a blunt ultimatum: Resign or they won’t play.

Fueling the anger were a series of on-campus incidents: racial slurs hurled at black students and feces smeared into the shape of a swastika on a wall in a residence hall. What many students viewed as a sluggish response from the administration gave rise to calls for the removal of the president, Timothy M. Wolfe.

The Legion of Black Collegians, which administers campus groups that primarily serve black students, posted a photograph to Twitter on Saturday night of more than 30 football players linked in arms with a graduate student who is staging a hunger strike.

“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ ” a message accompanying the photo said, quoting a line from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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The University of Missouri football stadium in Columbia, Mo. On Sunday, the protesting football players received the backing of their coaches and many of their teammates. Credit August Kryger for The New York Times

The protesting players received the backing of their coaches and many of their white teammates, and on Sunday evening two groups representing graduate students and graduate student workers said they would stage walkouts on Monday and Tuesday in solidarity with the activists and in protest of Mr. Wolfe’s response.

The Board of Curators, the nine-member governing body of the University of Missouri, said it would hold a closed-door meeting on Monday morning.

The strike reflected a growing willingness among black college students at predominantly white institutions to demand quick action and stronger responses from officials to reports of racial antagonism. Their efforts dovetail with broader pushes against inequality and injustice like the Black Lives Matter movement, which arose in response to a string of fatal police shootings of unarmed black civilians, including the death of Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, Mo.

The boycott could cost the university more than $1 million if the team forfeits a game scheduled for Saturday. Mr. Wolfe said in a statement on Sunday that his administration was working to address the students’ concerns, including a list of demands from a campus activist group spearheading the demonstrations, and promised to share the next steps as soon as they were confirmed.

“My administration has been meeting around the clock and has been doing a tremendous amount of reflection on how to address these complex matters,” he said. “We want to find the best way to get everyone around the table and create the safe space for a meaningful conversation that promotes change.”

His response did not quell frustration among demonstrators, both black and white, who were camped out in tents on the Mel Carnahan Quadrangle at the center of the campus. Storm Ervin, a senior, said Mr. Wolfe’s refusal to resign showed that he was out of touch.

“We’ve had departments supporting us. We’ve had faculty supporting us,” she said. “People who he leads are standing in solidarity with us.”

Ms. Ervin pointed out that Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin brought food to the campsite and spoke with students Sunday afternoon. Mr. Loftin was an early target of the demonstrations before criticism shifted to Mr. Wolfe.

A prolonged strike could have costly consequences for the players, some of whom depend on athletic scholarships, and the university, which draws revenue from ticket sales and the sale of television distribution rights. If Missouri forfeits Saturday’s game against Brigham Young University in Kansas City, Mo., it would be required to pay $1 million to B.Y.U., according to a copy of the contract between the schools published by The Kansas City Star in January.

Sixty of the 124 players on the Missouri football roster are black, although it is not clear whether all of them are participating in the strike, according to The Columbia Missourian, a newspaper published by faculty members and students.

The players’ boycott follows a decision by a black graduate student, Jonathan Butler, to go on a hunger strike over what he said in a letter to the Board of Curators were “a slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience” of minority groups at Missouri.

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Maxwell Little, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, is one of several students who have set up tents on the university's campus to protest the leadership of Timothy M. Wolfe, the university's president. Credit August Kryger for The New York Times

Some people on social media applauded the players for taking a stand, and the players received support from the athletics department as well as the coaching staff, their teammates and some public officials in Missouri. After a meeting with the football team on Sunday at the school’s athletic training complex, Coach Gary Pinkel declared his support for the demonstrating players with a team photo on Twitter.

In a joint statement with Mack B. Rhoades IV, the athletic director, Mr. Pinkel said practices and team activities scheduled on Sunday had been canceled to focus on resolving the impasse.

Missouri’s attorney general, Chris Koster, urged the university to set up a task force to address the students’ concerns. Claire McCaskill, the senior United States senator from Missouri and an alumna of the Columbia campus, said the Board of Curators needed to “send a clear message” to the students that they would address racism. Gov. Jay Nixon also issued a statement urging officials to address the students’ concerns “to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion.”

But the players also saw a backlash, including some calls for scholarships to be revoked for players participating in the protest.

The campus was set on edge after Mr. Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot during a scuffle with a police officer in Ferguson, about 110 miles from Columbia. About 8 percent of the 27,654 undergraduates on campus were black in 2014, according to enrollment figures. And a number of the black students come from Ferguson, where about two-thirds of the population is black, to Columbia, where nearly 80 percent of residents are white.

Frustrations have mounted since September when Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Students Association, who is black, said a man had called him a racial slur as he walked on campus. Students protested for a week before Mr. Loftin, the chancellor, responded to the incident.

In October, members of the Legion of Black Collegians reported that someone had yelled a racial slur as they rehearsed for a play in a campus plaza. Later that month, someone used feces to draw a swastika in a bathroom in a new dormitory. At the homecoming parade last month, students formed a human chain to block Mr. Wolfe’s car in an attempt to speak with him after officials did not respond to earlier requests to talk to him, the students said. Mr. Wolfe, who did not get out of the car, later apologized.

The tensions prompted a group of 11 student activists to form Concerned Student 1950, named for the year the university began admitting black students.

Mr. Wolfe took office in 2012 and oversees the system’s four campuses in Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis and Rolla. Missouri’s Board of Curators voted last year to extend his contract. A board document showed that the contract, scheduled to expire in 2018, included a base salary of more than $450,000, as well as potential performance bonuses.

In response to the demonstrations, he has met with Mr. Butler and the leaders of Concerned Student 1950. In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Wolfe expressed concern for the graduate student’s health and said racism at the school was “unacceptable.”

On campus on Sunday, many Missouri football players declined to comment on the boycott. But Jason Reese, a tight end, said the players would end their strike “after all this gets resolved.”

“I feel great,” he said. “And I love my teammates.”

Marc Tracy reported from Columbia, and Ashley Southall from New York. Jack Healy and Alan Blinder contributed reporting from New York, and Austin Huguelet from Columbia.

A version of this article appears in print on November 9, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: No Justice, No Football on a Missouri Campus.
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Re: Black Football Players Lend Heft to Protests at Missouri

Postby admin » Sun Nov 15, 2015 8:47 pm

College Athletes’ Potential Realized in Missouri Resignations
by Joe Nocera
NOV. 9, 2015

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From left, the University of Missouri football players J'Mon Moore, Ian Simon and Charles Harris on Monday with members of Concerned Student 1950. Credit Daniel Brenner for The New York Times

Well, that was fast.

When was it, exactly, that the African-American football players at the University of Missouri tweeted that they were going on strike until “President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed” from office? It was Saturday night, around 9 p.m. Eastern time.

Now consider the following timeline, which The Columbia Missourian recently published.

On Sept. 12, Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Student Association, takes to Facebook to describe a campus incident during which the most vile of anti-black slurs was hurled at him. A second racial incident occurs on Oct. 5. By Oct. 10, dissatisfied by the administration’s tepid response, a group called Concerned Student 1950 stages a protest during the homecoming parade. Ten days later, the group issues eight demands, including “an increase in the percentage of black faculty and staff,” as well as Wolfe’s removal from office.

A swastika drawn with feces is discovered in a bathroom on Oct. 24. Concerned Student 1950 has an inconclusive meeting with Wolfe three days later. Jonathan Butler, a protest leader, announces a hunger strike on Nov. 2. Another meeting with Wolfe takes place the next day, during which he promises, essentially, to do better.

In other words, nearly two months had gone by before the football players decided to get involved. Once they did, Wolfe lasted all of 36 hours. Later in the day, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said he would resign as well, effective at the end of the year.

In announcing his resignation Monday morning, Wolfe said he was motivated by his “love” for his alma mater. No doubt he was sincere. But it is hard to believe that his calculations didn’t include money as well: the $1 million that Missouri would be contractually obliged to pay Brigham Young University if the Tigers failed to play Saturday’s game; and the mess it would create for itself — and the Southeastern Conference, which it joined only four years ago — if a players’ strike lasted to the end of the season. Missouri’s final SEC game in late November, against Arkansas, is scheduled to be televised by CBS, which pays the conference $55 million a year for television rights.

As Andy Schwarz, an economist who has been deeply involved in a series of antitrust lawsuits against the N.C.A.A., put it, “the issues at Missouri are far more important than college football, but the Missouri athletes showed that the color that matters most is green.”

Will racism be eliminated from the Missouri campus now that the football players have succeeded in ousting Wolfe? Of course not. On a campus of about 35,000 students, only 7.2 percent are black. The school has worked to attract more students from urban centers, including outside of Missouri, which can create a cultural conflict with some in-state rural white students.

In addition to the incidents in which black students were called that repugnant name on a public street, there have also been several times recently when two trucks drove down a campus street with the occupants waving a Confederate flag.

“It’s a very tense place, very racially tense,” Stephanie Hernandez Rivera, the coordinator of the university’s Multicultural Center, said in a video released by the Faculty Council Committee on Race Relations. Earnest L. Perry, an African-American journalism professor, told me that teaching a required journalism diversity course throughout the years opened him to “criticism and racism, both written and verbal; I am not immune.”

No, it’s going to take more than the resignation of its president to fix the racial problems affecting Mizzou.

On the other hand, Wolfe didn’t do himself any favors. A former corporate executive, Wolfe possessed a command-and-control style that didn’t jibe well with campus life. And he clearly didn’t know how to respond to the protests.

Qiana Jade, a Missouri student, posted a video on Twitter showing an exchange between Wolfe and some protesters. It shows him clearly out of his element — and on his heels. Asked by the students to define “systematic oppression,” he said, “I’ll give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer.” Pressed further, he said, “Systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.”

The students erupted in anger. As Wolfe walked away, a student yelled: “Did you just blame us for systematic oppression, Tim Wolfe? Did you just blame black students?”

Jade posted that video on Friday night. By Saturday night, most of her Twitter energy was devoted to spreading the word that black members of the football team had joined the protest.

“So proud of our young black men!!” she tweeted. “They are really stepping up.”

And indeed they were. Which brings me to my second point. It turns out that the football players had something the other protesters didn’t: power. There wasn’t the slightest hint that Wolfe was considering resigning — until the football players got involved. Schwarz, the economist, told me that it was easy for the university administration to ignore the protesters because they were members of minorities and because they were young. But, he added, “The one place where young minority voices have economic power is sports.”

As readers of my old Op-Ed column well know, I have long contended that the players in the revenue-producing sports — college football and men’s basketball — are being terribly exploited by College Sports Inc. There are many players who feel that way, too, and who believe they deserve payment for the work they do beyond the cost of attending college. But they’ve always felt powerless to bring that about. After all, they are young and full of dreams of playing professionally — dreams that they fear might be dashed if they were to become involved in a strike or a protest.

And they are susceptible to pressure. In January 2014, when Kain Colter, the former Northwestern University quarterback, first informed the Wildcats’ coach, Pat Fitzgerald, that the football team was trying to unionize, Fitzgerald said, “I’m proud of you guys for doing this.” But Fitzgerald soon changed his tune and made it clear to the players that he viewed a vote for the union as a personal betrayal. At Missouri, Gary Pinkel, the football coach (he makes more than $4 million a year, by the way) openly supported his striking athletes. That was easy to do with the next game a week away and the team, at 4-5, unlikely to make a major bowl. How supportive would he have remained as we got toward Saturday?

That’s why I have never considered it realistic that, for instance, college basketball players might one day boycott the Final Four to force the system to change. Or at least that’s what I thought until this weekend. One wonders what athletes at other universities are thinking, now that they’ve seen a football team take down a university president in 36 hours.

“It is a monumental step,” said Sonny Vaccaro, the former Nike marketing executive who now devotes his life to fighting the N.C.A.A. Vaccaro noted that the players took their stand not on their own behalf but for a larger cause, something, as he put it, “that affects their humanity.”

Schwarz had a similar thought.

“Civil rights matter most,” he said. “The next step is for athletes to realize that their economic lives matter, too, and that this power that they possess can also be used to push for justice on that front as well.”

Email: nocera@nytimes.com

Joe Nocera is writing a new Sports Business column that will appear in the print edition on Saturdays beginning Nov. 21 and at other times throughout the week. He previously wrote a column for the Op-Ed page. Follow him on Twitter: @NoceraNYT.
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