Social Justice Opinion: Mizzou football activism gives students a voice By Matt Stephens Posted on November 10, 2015 11 min read 0 0 750 Photo courtesy of Dann Wunderlich via Flickr College football is a powerful entity; there are boosters that flush money through universities and alumni who follow the actions of various teams. When a college football team takes a stand for activism, people listen; when a team calls for a university to fire its president, he or she resigns. Missouri University System President Tim Wolfe resigned Monday during a Board of Curators meeting. In events leading up to the meeting, several students suffered from incidents of racial harassment and many students were furious about the university’s lack of resolution. Missouri Student Association President Payton Head walked through campus on Sept. 12 to the screams of a group of students calling him the N-word. Mizzou’s black student government, the Legion of Black Collegians, endured various racial slurs in the university’s Traditions Plaza on Oct. 5. The most notable incident came Oct. 24, when there was a swastika drawn on a dorm room in human feces. Students were concerned following the incidents, and activism grew for the university to take action, even going as far as students stopping MU’s homecoming parade and surrounding Wolfe’s car asking for answers. Wolfe proceed to not get out of his car during the incident and told the press he couldn’t hear what protesters were saying. Following the incident Wolfe told NBC affiliate KOMU he recognized the frustrations, saying, “That frustration obviously opened my mind that we need to do a better job of listening and learning, and those were the comments that I took away from that experience.” Obviously he was not “listening to and learning” following the incidents as nothing was resolved following the incident. Student organization “Concerned Student 1950” organized many of the rallies and camping that occurred within the last week on MU’s campus. The year “1950” refers to the first time Mizzou admitted a black student. The athletic activism was not the only display of voice on Mizzou’s campus. Missouri graduate student Jonathan Butler ended a hunger strike Monday that stretched back to Nov. 2. The strike was calling for Wolfe to be fired following all of the incidents on MU’s campus. This hunger strike is what led the football players to protest, as many of them knew Butler. The team was not going to take the field unless Butler was able to eat again. Now that he can, will someone please swipe Butler into the dining halls at MU for the next month? Athletes of color on the Missouri University Tigers football team took to Twitter and explained that they would not practice nor play until the university fired its president. Defensive back Anthony Sherrils tweeted a statement about the unity of the team. We’re black. Black is powerful. Our struggle may look different, but we are all #ConcernedStudent1950 pic.twitter.com/obCjSWCFVY — HeMadeAKing (@1Sherrils_2MIZZ) November 8, 2015 The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players. #ConcernedStudent1950 GP pic.twitter.com/fMHbPPTTKl — Coach Gary Pinkel (@GaryPinkel) November 8, 2015 Administrators of Mizzou’s athletic department issued a statement backing the football team’s declaration. “(We are) aware of the declarations made tonight by many of our student-athletes. We all must come together with leaders from across our campus to tackle these challenging issues and we support our student-athletes right to do so.” Although the community came together as one, the football team on campus was the biggest reason Wolfe resigned on Monday. According to ESPN, if the football team would have not played its game against BYU this Saturday, the game would have cost the university $750,000 for the short term. For the long term, it would have cost the university an additional $250,000 for violating a contract that states, “if either side canceled the game for any reason other than war, government restriction or an act of God,” then there would be a penalty of $1 million. I think this big money loss was the driving force behind the decision for Wolfe to resign. I imagine some boosters and big money alumni who supported the football team wanted the president out of Mizzou, so if Wolfe hadn’t resigned, the university would have probably dismissed Wolfe anyway. It is tragic to see that it takes big money athletics to implement social justice on college campuses. It was not enough for the university to see there was a problem when Butler went on his hunger strike. With seventy-seven percent of Mizzou’s student body being predominantly white, black students make up only 7 percent. In regards to the team, 58 of Mizzou’s 84 players who are on scholarship are black. Being a team with a strong black student presence on campus, allowed for an issue that may have been ignored by others to have the spotlight it deserved. This is not the first time we have seen student activism through a college football team in recent memory. Oklahoma players protested practice back in March, following racist comments made by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on their campus. During that incident, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight issued a statement on Twitter, saying, “We simply cannot wait to get back on the practice field in our pursuit of a national championship, but even a national championship is not more important than using our platform as student athletes to make our university and our nation a better place.” Missouri University has a problem on its hands: there is still racism on its campus. Although this is a victory for social justice, problems still hinder the Mizzou community as the racism issue on campus still lingers in the student body. Although a man who took no action is gone, this problem still needs resolution. Missouri will take the field against BYU this Saturday after a crazy week. Hopefully, a new president will recognize these issues haunting a community that needs justice. Hats off to the student activists at MU, and hats off to a football team who rallied behind sports to implement change. Sports create change but justice does not stop here; it starts here.