By Charlie Mule,
Sports Business Assistant Editor
For the past week, a graduate student at the University of Missouri has been on a hunger strike, hoping to force the school system’s president to resign his position over a perceived failure to address racist incidents on campus. The student, Jonathan Butler, objects to President Tim Wolfe’s lack of response to “racist, sexist and homophobic incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience” at Missouri, as he wrote in a letter.
Wolfe, and the chancellor of the flagship campus, R. Bowen Loftin, announced on Monday that they were resigning their posts in the face of growing protests by African-American students, the threat of a walkout by faculty and a strike by football players who said the administrators had done too little to fight racism on campus.
After Wolfe’s announcement, the university’s athletic department said in a statement that the football team would return to the practice field Tuesday to prepare for its game on Saturday against BYU. Canceling the game would have cost the university in excess of $1 million. Sure, that’s a lot of money, but for a topic so severe the football team just didn’t care. Something needed to be done.
When anyone looks at a school or university as big as Missouri, they see athletics as the face. Having a football team hold out on playing a game shows the severity of the situation. The team also put pressure on the directory immediately. As the game scheduled for Saturday against BYU neared, the more pressure and attention was brought on the university.
The strike also claimed immediate economic damage as well as the cancellation of the game would have resulted in a $1 million fine and the loss of revenue.
With all that was at stake, the main focus was the health of Butler.
“The primary concerns of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has been centered on the health of Jonathan Butler and working with student leaders to find a resolution that would save a life,” Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades said in a statement. “We are hopeful we can begin a process of healing and understanding on our campus.”
Rhoades announced on Friday, that Pinkel will be resigning at the end of the 2015 season. His resignation stems from his ongoing battle with lymphoma.
According to SB Nation, Pinkel felt great going into this season but wants to focus on spending time with friends and family.
Missouri football has two more home games following the BYU matchup, and with Wolfe out it looks like they will be ready to go.
In a sports world that is all too often characterized off the field by stories of narcissism and selfishness, a handful of students in Columbia decided to take a stand. An even more pressured administration might have pushed for them to be suspended or kicked off the team.
Even if they knew that those things wouldn’t happen, though, they also had to know that the criticisms from social media and elsewhere would be intense. The players acted anyway.
One thing this group of college football players showed was persistence and pride. They didn’t care what could have happened. They wanted to make a difference. They showed us all once again how sports make an impact no matter what level.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 17th print edition.
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