This week the American population saw the power and significance of the college athlete grow. We don ourselves in jerseys, T-shirts and hoodies with the last names of college athletes. We buy tickets and allow the outcomes of games played by 18- to 22-year-olds dictate how we feel on Saturday. We allow our children to let other children be their role models.
College athletes, especially those of the “big” sports — football and basketball — have always had their influence on society, but this week we saw just how much of an influence they can have.
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI
As the University of Missouri protest/hunger strike/boycott gained national attention last week, my Facebook and Twitter feeds became hotbeds for articles, videos and statuses in regards to it. And when ESPN began coverage, it was hard to not become knowledgeable of the issue.
To catch you up, Missouri’s flagship campus has witnessed several racial incidents this fall semester. From racial slurs to threats and even a swastika drawn out of feces in a dorm bathroom, racial tensions on campus truly came to light.
Following the incidents, many students and faculty felt that university officials were not taking enough action. On Nov. 2, Missouri graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike. Butler made a statement saying that until university President Tim Wolfe either resigned or was removed from office, he would not consume any food or nutritional sustenance. Following Butler’s announcement, students began camping out on the Carnahan Quadrangle in support.
Following the hunger strike, a boycott of university goods as well as several demonstrations and meetings with school administrators began taking place. But the real turning point for the movement came on Saturday when the MU football players announced their support — “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences” — said a tweet.
Then on Saturday, Tiger head football coach Gary Pinkel released a tweet and a photo of himself with nearly 100 players and assistant coaches showing their support for their players and for the entire “Mizzou Family.”
On Monday morning, Wolfe announced his resignation and school chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, announced that he would be stepping down and moving his focus to a different area within the university.
Later that day, Butler announced that his strike was over, but the desire for a real change on campus is now in full swing and many are now watching with eager eyes to see what steps the university takes.
But what does this have to do with football? Many can argue it has everything to do with football. Since Wolfe’s resignation some have made statements that without the football team taking its stand, Butler would still be on a hunger strike and the quadrangle would still be covered in multicolored tents.
The team’s boycott of practices and games until a resolution was made changed the game.
According to Maxwell Little, a UM student and early member of Concerned Student 1950, a campus group that began the fight against the racial injustices on campus, made the statement, “to get things done, we had to have some leverage and that leverage was the strength of the football team.”
The Tigers are 4-5 in the season and with their Saturday announcement were prepared to forfeit their Nov. 14 game against BYU. The forfeit wouldn’t only result in another loss for the Tigers, it would result in the loss of $1 million.
Last year the University of Missouri and BYU signed an agreement stating “the parties agree that if one party cancels any game or games, the defaulting party shall pay as liquidated damages to the other party $1 million.”
The Tigers athletic department brought in $84 million in 2014; with the football program being the largest moneymaker.
Missouri is no longer in danger of paying the fine with the conclusion of the football team’s boycott Monday. The Tigers resumed practice and have shifted their focuses to Saturday’s game against BYU. But the Mizzou football team and squads across the nation are learning just how much of an impact they can make and just how much of an influence they have on their respective campuses and in the greater scheme of things, the country.
ATHLETES SHOW THEIR POTENTIAL
We are living in a world where sports coaches have more say and more influence than a university president. There is no greater public representation of schools than their athletic programs and their success.
The Missouri football team came out and made a stand, and the players’ efforts paid off — they made a difference.
Racial issues are not just present at the University of Missouri. There are students at every university who feel discriminated against and there have been incidents that each university has needed to handle. But like I said, Missouri is just the beginning.
In the days since Wolfe’s resignation, students from universities across the country have started protests and movements of their own, but none have garnered much attention. Which makes me wonder, what will it take the college football teams and basketball teams of America to truly spark a change?
I sincerely hope that the University of Missouri is looking to take action against racial tensions on campus and make it a safe environment for all of its students, and that Wolfe’s resignation was not just about the money.
But if it takes college athletes getting involved for change to be made, I hope the young men and women representing universities on the playing field have the courage to stand up for what they believe and I hope they have the courage to use their influence for good.