Increasingly, student-athletes become student activists

'Let this be a testament to all of the athletes across the country that you do have power'

The University of Missouri (Mizzou) football team made headlines this week for leveraging their sway on campus to help oust the president amid protests against systemic racism—and they are not the only student-athletes lending their influence to social justice, Ralph Russo reports for the Associated Press.

Following weeks of protests—including a hunger strike by graduate student Jonathan Butler—the football team joined in. On Saturday, 30 football players said they would not participate in team activities until system President Tim Wolfe resigned or was fired. On Monday, Wolfe and Mizzou Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned.

The players' boycott would have cost the school more than $1 million if the team forfeited the upcoming game against Brigham Young University, which will be played in the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs' stadium.

"Let this be a testament to all of the athletes across the country that you do have power," Mizzou defensive end Charles Harris says. "It started with a few individuals on our team and look what it's become. Look where it's at right now."

Guidelines: Listen, don't arrest, during student protests

Black athletes accounted for 63% of Mizzou's men's football and basketball teams, but less than 3% of the undergraduate population, according to a 2013 study by Shaun Harper, executive director for Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Today, black students make up 7% of the total enrollment, according to the school

"I don't know another class of black people on a university campus that has a much power as these guys, who generate millions of dollars for their institutions and billions of dollars for their athletic conferences. Not in our modern history have we seen black students collectively flex their muscle in this way," Harper says.

But because such students frequently are insulated by athletic department staff, they do not always realize the full scope of their influence, Russo writes.

"Hopefully, this situation raises their consciousness about their authority," Harper says. "If black men on these teams and at other places that are like Mizzou do what these guys just did, it could be a form of activism that procures lots of benefits for them as well as for the black student collective they represent."

Today, social media and recent court rulings in favor of NCAA athletes provide the students with more power and a larger platform.

Two years ago, Grambling State University football players refused to play a game to protest a coach's firing, and poor facilities and travel conditions. The boycott led to a $30,000 investment in the weight room.

Last year, Northwestern University football players attempted to unionize—although efforts eventually failed.

This year, University of Oklahoma's football team refused to practice for a week after a video of members of the local Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter singing a racist song went viral.

At Mizzou, the decision to boycott stemmed from receiver J'Mon Moore's visit with Butler.

"We just wanted to use our platform to take a stance as fellow concerned students on an issue that has special meaning as a fellow black man's life was on the line," defensive back Ian Simon says. "We love the game, but at the end of the day, it is just that—a game" (Russo, AP/U.S. News & World Report, 11/10).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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