A group of University of Missouri Black players stood tall, and not on the field. Their stand should be duly recognized not for what they did, but for what happened because of what they did.
I call them “the 30 plus” — these Black players at Mizzou, watching several on-campus racial incidents go unchecked on a campus just a couple of hours away from Ferguson, Missouri, which for better than a year has been the epicenter of racial turmoil ripe for change, wanting to see change in their four-year home away from home.
They joined the Concerned Student 1950 student group who also got fed up and demanded a litany of changes, including the school president taking a hike.
I call the 30 plus a throwback to the late 1960s, when Black athletes took stand, oftentimes with longstanding personal and athletic risks, but saw the bigger picture and stood for the greater good. Too often in recent years, too many Black athletes, upon their arrival on campus, turned in their consciousness caps for BMOC (big man on campus) swag.
“We think athletes, particularly African American athletes, go silent on issues,” says JeffiAnne Wilder, who writes, researches and lectures as a distinguished expert on colorism in Black American society. (Wilder, a University of North Florida associate professor of sociology, is featured in an MSR front-page article this week.)
Sadly, too many of these Black athletes, after the cheering stops and their eligibility expires, are unprepared for the cold, sober reality that the culturally conditioned world sees them as: Black people.
The 30-plus, however, chose to join in solidarity with fellow Mizzou Black students in demanding that their mostly White school officials stop playing ostrich and start addressing their concerns. The 30 put their athletic scholarships at risk by crossing the line often drawn by their coaches that they are told not to cross while they are making millions for their schools. After all, they aren’t regular students. People don’t fork down big bucks to see regular students or play fantasy draft games to see chemistry majors.
Their reward? The Missouri president and the university chancellor, within hours of each other, turned in their office keys and resigned. The Black players’ action “does speak volumes,” adds Wilder.
“We are able to see now not only the power of these Black student-athletes, but also we are able to see that at the end of the day, these are Black students,” notes Johari Shuck, a doctoral student at Indiana University. She is a member of the Student Athletes Human Rights Project, which she describes as “a group of scholar activists who are about the outcome of these student-athletes.”
“What I hope would happen is those athletes [now know] that there is a collective strength to deal with issues that affect them.”
Drexel University Sport Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky last week told the MSR that a “racialized culture” exists on many college campuses, and as a result, the Mizzou Black players “are living in a racialized culture that does not treat them well.”
We wondered if this had been the University of Minnesota, a campus that has had its share of racial concerns in recent months, would the Gopher Black football players do something similar, like stand up.
“There are strings attached to scholarships for all students of color, but student athletes of color in particular,” responded Rahsaan Mahadeo, who’s a member of the Whose Diversity? student group. “I don’t know whether Black student athletes at the U are prepared” to do this and risk losing their scholarships.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.