The University Of Missouri Football Boycott Is The Biggest American Protest Of The 21st Century

Members of Concerned Student 1950 celebrate after the resignation of Missouri University President Timothy M. Wolfe on the Missouri University Campus Nov. 9, 2015, in Columbia, Mo. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
Members of Concerned Student 1950 celebrate after the resignation of Missouri University President Timothy M. Wolfe on the Missouri University Campus Nov. 9, 2015, in Columbia, Mo. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images)

I wasn't alive in the 50s and 60s and 70s when mass boycotts to protest racial injustice was more commonplace and more infused with our national cultural zeitgeist. I, like most of you, am very aware of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other, less publicized, boycotts (like the New Orleans citizens boycott). But, again, reading about the spirit of a time in a textbook and hearing about it from your parents is a vastly different experience than living through it.

I am, however, old enough to remember the late 80s and the 90s. As well as (obviously) the last 15 years. And I can honestly say that I have never seen a more meaningful and more effective American boycott than the one staged by the University of Missouri football players, whose actions forced President Tim Wolfe to resign.

Now, there have been other boycotts and protests where the stakes were higher. The recent unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore and Cleveland and other cities — as well as the #BlackLivesMatter movement — happened as a result of actual lives being taken by law enforcement. And, while the conditions at Missouri have apparently been racially antagonistic for some time, there's no real comparison between that and the unjust murder of another human being. But this particular act, this present-day congealing of our racial, athletic, academic, and political worlds, will resonate for decades and might fundamentally alter revenue-generating college athletics, college itself, and, to quote Dr. David Leonard, the "religiosity of American sports culture."

Advertisement

This is some major shit.

Because, as absurd and problematic as the countless calls for the players to have their scholarships revoked were, it's equally absurd that a couple dozens or so kids threatening to not play one football game had such an extensive and decisive impact — on the college, the state, the conference, and the nation — that it took less than 72 hours to get the university president out. It's nothing short of amazing that those kids had the wherewithal and courage to put their scholarships and livelihoods (current and future) on the line to stand up for what they believed in, and it's nothing short of terrifying that nothing anyone else on that campus would have done would have mattered the same way. No hunger strikes — and thank you, Jonathan Butler, for sparking this flame — no protests, no petitions signed by students and teachers, no votes of no confidence would have earned the same result as quickly.

Well, it's not terrifying to me. But it should be to every Division I football and basketball coach in the country, and every administrator who happens to be at a school where the head ball coach makes 10 times as much money as the chancellor. This could very well be the college athlete's Neo in the hallway moment; when this exclusive and presumably powerless and thoughtless population becomes fully aware of the power they possess. And if this does happen — if this collection of young and mostly Black men continues to decide to wield this power — it will reverberate down (to high school sports) and up (to professional sports). And then there will be more serious conversations about taking fundamental steps to pull the plug on this power. On reexamining our country's relationship with sports.

And then, well, and then we'll see what happens next.

matrix

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`

DISCUSSION

The protest from student-athletes and students, because I think we forget that non-athletes also played a role in this, is a great example of pulling pursestrings instead of heartstrings. Mizzou can't stand to lose football money. We're talking MILLIONS, especially since bowl games are around the corner. It's kind of sad that it took potentially losing millions spurred this, and not actual welfare of minority students. You've got to get it where you fit in, and if you can fit in a wallet…get in. If we can't let you see our humanity, we'll make you see green, or the lack thereof.

As a graduate of a fellow SEC school, I'm happy for Mizzou. It's a great step in the right direction. Football is darn near everything at SEC schools.

I think being Black at a PWI forces you to reconcile: 1) Knowing that your school's history and traditions are deep-rooted in racism, sexism and homophobia. It's just one of those conflicts I'll always have, 2) Knowing your school has a long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusion, and 3) Loving your school in spite of all of that. I love my alma mater, but I also know there's a lot of changes to be made.