COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Missouri football players decided to support student protesters by refusing to take part in team activities until the departure of President Tim Wolfe, the message resonated far beyond campus.
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The players declared their support for Jonathan Butler, a graduate student, who has gone on a hunger strike until Wolfe’s removal. Coach Gary Pinkel tweeted in support of his players Sunday. The hunger strike and other protests, which were slowly gaining local acknowledgment, suddenly received national attention.
Missouri journalism professor Berkley Hudson found a parallel in the famous protest of Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who were ostracized after a black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games. More recently, he said football players at the school had made a statement by supporting teammate Michael Sam after he came out as gay.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s unique and powerful position.
“I see a direct connection to that in terms of the willingness of athletes to make a statement,” Hudson said. “There have been cases where athletes have been bold, and this I dare say will go down as one of them.”.
Hudson chairs the Faculty Council race relations committee, formed after events in Ferguson to address issues related to race and ethnicity on campus. Butler, a committee student member, began a hunger strike last week following what he said was an inadequate response by Wolfe to instances of racism and hate speech on Missouri campuses, including a swastika drawn with feces in a MU residence hall last month. Hudson said the athletes’ boycott is pushing more people to engage with the issues raised by Butler.
“Without even getting into whether or not the president should resign, they’re saying we support this effort to have a serious conversation about how people are treating one another and treating one another based on just their skin color,” Hudson said.
Missouri’s football team ‘stands in solidarity’ with student activists.
Organizers with the group Concerned Students 1950 established a collection of tents on the Carnahan Quadrangle, near the Missouri Student Center. Members said the encampment is an effort to make their movement more accessible to the rest of the university. Sunday morning, several athletes visited to show their support as the group attempted to deal with the flood of media attention the players’ announcement had brought to their protest.
Missouri senior Abigail Hollis, one of the organizers of the Concerned Students group, said it was amazing to have their story amplified by the football team’s statement.
“It’s really beautiful to have the football team standing in solidarity with us,” she said. “They’re fighting for us and they’re also fighting for their own rights.”.