IOWA CITY, Iowa – Even with a 4-5 record, the University of Missouri football team never has looked as strong as it does now.
I didn’t have a clue about the racial unrest that had been simmering on the Missouri campus until more than 30 Missouri football players recently announced that they would not participate in team activities until University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe was removed.
Head football coach Gary Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades also expressed solidarity with the players and showed support for a Missouri student staging a hunger strike.
It was painfully obvious, even to those on the outside that Wolfe had to resign after the football players joined the protest. His reign ended Monday morning with Wolfe resigning during an emotionally charged news conference.
It was almost surreal watching a university president in this day and age being forced to resign from a position of great power and influence because of what basically came down to charges of racism.
Wolfe was forced to resign for his handling of a series of racially-charged incidents on the Missouri campus in Columbia, Mo. It’s now being reported that a culture of racism has festered on the Missouri campus for years in which African-Americans are treated like second-rate citizens.
And yet, I didn’t have a clue about it until the Missouri football players joined the protest. That’s when it became more than just a sad and disturbing story for those close to the situation, it became a national story.
An ugly truth was revealed about a school that just two years ago had gained positive publicity for how the community embraced former Missouri football player Michael Sam, who is black, when he announced that he is gay.
Wolfe’s resignation is a reminder of how powerful a group of student-athletes can be when they unite for a noble cause, when they bond together and say enough, and when they sacrifice in order to achieve change.
Athletics are just part of the university experience, but nobody should ever question the power and influence of a major college football team. Many livelihoods depend on it because football helps pay most of the bills.
Take away the players and you would have nothing. Take away the African-American players and you would have next to nothing at most power five schools.
According to the Columbia Missourian, 60 of the 124 players on the current Missouri roster are black. The team couldn’t function without them and it would be almost impossible to recruit without them.
The fact that Wolfe resigned just a few days after the Missouri football players joined the protest is a testimony to the power of revenue-generating student-athletes. If they didn’t realize how much power they wielded on a college campus, they should now.
It’ll be interesting too see if other revenue-generating student-athletes begin to use their power to make changes.
The situation at Missouri already is shameful and embarrassing, but imagine the controversy if a school such as Missouri had to forfeit a football game because of racial unrest on its campus.
Fortunately, we won’t have to witness such a sad occurrence, thanks in part to a group of courageous and proud Missouri football players, some of whom are white. The Missouri student who has staged a hunger strike also deserves praise for taking extreme action.
Of course, it’ll take more than just firing one prominent person to fix the culture at Missouri. The division that apparently exists at Missouri wasn’t formed overnight, nor will it be erased overnight. It takes time and effort to erase prejudices.
But the healing process has to start somewhere. Why not on top?
It’s absolutely the responsibility of a college president to provide an atmosphere of learning in which racism isn’t tolerated. That doesn’t mean a president should be blamed for every individual act of bigotry that occurs.
But it’s way beyond that at Missouri. It has to be or the football players wouldn’t have taken such a dramatic stand.
I’ve barely paid any attention to the Missouri football team, but I will now simply out of respect.
No disrespect to Brigham Young University, whose football team faces Missouri on Saturday, but I’ll be rooting for Missouri to win the game.
A victory wouldn’t mean a lot in the big of scheme of things. But it would give the Missouri players something to rally behind during a tumultuous time.
But they still have to make it happen, just like they did in helping to remove their now former president.