When black football players at Missouri risked their scholarships to join protests calling for the resignation of university president Tim Wolfe, they proved how much more powerful the Black Lives Matter movement can be when African American athletes “stay woke.”
#WolfeGottaGo isn’t just a hashtag; he just resigned a little over an hour ago.
Calls of Wolfe’s resignation began well before the football team joined Jonathan Bulter and other black students’ protests at the Columbia campus, but their participation was the breaking point that forced the university’s hand for one very simple reason: the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
NCAA football is a multi-billion-dollar business and the SEC, the conference in which the Tigers play, is arguably its most competitive. A disruption of any kind to an SEC football schedule can set off financial repercussions that harm the very system that exploits so many black athletes who play without pay or union representation.
That black players’ refusal to play a single down of football helped lead to the resignation of a major university’s president is easily one of the most important exercises of Black Power this nation has ever seen. If what has just taken place on Missouri’s campus doesn’t frighten the NCAA, it should. The Missouri football players threatened to bring a major organ of the university’s economic structure to its knees unless it addressed its racist campus culture. Had the team not played in its scheduled against against Brigham Young University next week, Missouri would have been required to pay the school $1 million.
Football, alone, earns the school tens of millions dollars each year.
That why it was so crucial for black football players join the efforts lead by Concerned Student 1950 to demand that the university invests resources into combating racism at the school’s Columbia campus. For African Americans to achieve full Black Liberation, the white supremacist system that undervalues black labor must know we will cease to provide it if the dignity of all of our people is not respected.
The message of the black football players was clear: Hey NCAA, come get your people.
There is much debate over why black students at Missouri wanted Wolfe, in particular, gone. The answer is simply that he presided over a university structure that refused to address the campuses’ anti-black racial climate. Several black students told Newsy that Wolfe had been dismissive of their calls to respond to racist acts that have taken place on campus over the year. “He is the starting point. That’s what it is,” Ayanna Poole, a member of Concerned Student 1950, said. “Since he is not holding anyone else accountable and he is not doing good in his leadership position.”
Payton Head, the Missouri Students Association president and an African-American, told The Washington Post last month he was called the n-word while walking across campus. A protest ensued after university officials took a week to issue a response. One of the more disturbing acts of racism to take place last month when someone drew a swastika on a dorm wall with excrement. One student told the Los Angeles Times that she has been called the n-word too many times to keep count.
Named after the first year Missouri accepted a black student, Concerned Student 1950 met with a black football player who approached the group to ask how the team can support their efforts. The player, who was not named, said that the team would not participate in any practices, games or any other activists until Wolfe resigned.
Head football coach Gary Pinkel tweeted Sunday that he stood behind his players. Faculty members threatened to walk out of classes. In reality, neither the coaches nor the professors had much of a choice. Division 1A students, on any campus, bring in tens of millions of dollars to the university’s coffers that support non-sports activists and academic departments. To be clear, black non-student athletes led the protests long before Missouri football players pledged their support; Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike against racism was what really set the ball for Wolfe’s resignation in motion. However, the economic and social capital their labor means to the NCAA that, in turn, helps fuel the university’s economy amplified that call even more.
The Black Lives Matter Movement has focused mainly on police brutality, but protests at Missouri prove how much more powerful the movement can be if black athletes of conscience use their influence to fight racism. Organizing mass protests that flood the streets of America have always been a powerful and effective tool to challenge white supremacy; what is, perhaps, an even more lethal action is the refusal to finance it.
The NCAA may balk at calls to pay student athletes for their labor, but if they refuse to play for its exploitive empire, it, along with the other entities that depend on the association, will easily fall. This weekend’s social stance was not directed at the NCAA specifically. But, indirectly, they threatened the very organ that pays hundreds of millions of dollars each year to universities that often serve as unchecked breeding grounds for racial hatred.
Black student athletes across the country should learn from the Missouri football team’s demonstration of Black Power. The racism that is running rampant on Columbia’s campus is happening at institutions of higher learning around the country and administrators on those campuses are refusing adequately address it. Such dismissiveness could end as soon as African American athletes stop bouncing basketballs and throwing touchdowns.
In less than 48 hours after football players refused to play until Wolfe resigned, he quit. Imagine if football teams around the country followed suit. White supremacy would crumble. And all it would take is black athletes choosing to stand in protest against racism over catching touchdowns in the name of an exploitive NCAA.
The Missouri Tigers football team showed America what can happen if they choose the former.