Considering that I frequently write about racial matters, I attest to the fact that African-American youth are one of the hardest populations to convince that race still matters. Oftentimes it seems that African-American youth are living in an alternative universe where they are undisturbed by prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Although many have attempted to applaud African-American youth for their ability to not focus upon racial matters, my generation fears that past gains will be relinquished if Black youth naively believe that racial matters no longer matter in America.
So it was with great pleasure that I awoke to breaking news regarding the African-American members of the University of Missouri’s football team joining together to issue a public protest, a boycott nonetheless, of all athletic activities until Missouri System President Tim Wolfe either resigns or is terminated by his superiors. The announcement was made via social media by Missouri’s Legion of Black Collegians with a picture of more than thirty African-American players with arms interlocked in a show of solidarity against campus racism. The aggrieved students’ allege that President Wolfe has been slow to respond to their issues; Jonathan Butler, a graduate student, has taken his protest to another level by starting a hunger strike that he vows will not end until the President has been removed.
It appears that a major aspect of this protest has been President Wolfe’s failure to do anything to lessen the racial tensions that have been mounting on his campus. After meeting with Wolfe, one of those present related that the President “…verbally acknowledged that he cared for Black students at the University of Missouri, However he also reported he was ‘not completely’ aware of systemic racism, sexism, and patriarchy on campus, not understanding these systems of oppression therefore renders him incapable of effectively performing his core duties.”
Wolfe admits that he is in unfamiliar waters when dealing with racial matters by an apology he issued to a group called Concerned Student 1950, a group formed in honor of the first African-American student to matriculate from the University of Missouri.
Concerned Student 1950 stopped the homecoming parade vehicle carrying President Wolfe in an effort to dialogue about increasing racial tensions on the campus; Wolfe refused to talk. Wolfe relates that “My behavior seemed like I did not care. That was not my intention. I was caught off guard in the moment. I am asking us to move forward in addressing the racism that exists at our university — and it does exist.”
African-American students at the University of Missouri have related repeated incidents and injuries on the campus from being publicly called “niggers” to a most recent occurrence of a Nazi swastika being drawn on a college dorm wall. Anthony Sherrils, a defensive back for the Mizzou Tigers tweeted the following: “The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere.’ 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. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!!”
The University Missouri’s athletic department responded to the boycott in the following statement, 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.” It appears that the African-American players are not alone in this protest as several white coaches and teammates have come out to publicly support the decision. In an incredible show of solidarity with his African-American students, Gary Pinkel, the University of Missouri Head Football Coach, has pledged that the football team will not practice until Butler begins eating again.
The courageous decision by the Mizzou football players reminds one of the historic role that African-American athletes used to play when they purposely used their public persona to address and advance political causes. Names such as Jesse Owens, Paul Robeson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jim Brown, Jimmy Smith, and Muhammad Ali come to mind when one thinks about what the gold-standard is for African-American athletes’ relevance extending beyond the field, track, or basketball court. Make no mistake about it, the example set by these young people is far more weightier than what has become the standard modus operandi of today’s Black athletes political irrelevance; it appears that many of today’s notable athletes and entertainers have turned in the Black power fist for mindless materialism and a date with a Kardashian.
So I applaud the University of Missouri football team for this most courageous action and hope that others will follow their lead once they recognize that their responsibilities to the community extend far beyond merely running, throwing, or shooting a ball. Trust me when I say that the struggle for racial equality needs your immediate contribution.
James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2015.