Racial slurs, white cotton balls scattered across the Black Culture Center during Black History Month, an anonymous post threatening to burn down the Black Culture Center, and a swastika smeared in human feces on a dormitory bathroom wall are all part of the history of racism at the University of Missouri.
Tim Wolfe, the system’s president, was one individual who failed to address these issues on campus. The tipping point for students calling for his resignation was when his driver clipped at least one student protester with his car, the Huffington Post reported. A group of African American students interrupted the Mizzou homecoming parade wearing t-shirts that said “1839 Was Built On My B(l)ack,” referring the founding of the university and slave labor. The students were part of a group called Concerned Student 1950, in reference to the year when the university accepted the first African American student, according to USA Today. It took almost a month for Wolfe to apologize for the incident.
After many unsuccessful protests — including one student who vowed to go on a hunger strike until Wolfe resigned — many members of the football team banded together and announced they would boycott all team activities. The statement garnered enough attention that Wolfe resigned as president of the University of Missouri system, although he will be relocated to a new position on the Columbia campus.
Many speculate it’s no coincidence Wolfe resigned after the football team protested. If the football team were to continue to suspend all activity, it would have had to forfeit its game against Brigham Young University — costing the University of Missouri $1 million in cancellation fees to BYU, as well as lost revenue costs.
One person going on a hunger strike doesn’t have the same effect as a large group of people banding together for change, especially when it’s a group as large and impactful as the football team.
But even the message of Concerned Student 1950 wasn’t able to bring about the substantial change the way the football team did.
If 50 students went on a hunger strike together, it likely wouldn’t have as much impact as the football team. Despite the efforts of the Concerned Student 1950 group and the student going on hunger strike, it’s unfortunate these two movements didn’t create as much change as what the football team did. And it’s not about the efforts of the football team, many members of which feel the same systemic racism and harassment as those in other protesting groups.
However, the fact that the movement had more pull than the two other groups suggests something about what the university system deems most valuable. The power of numbers intensifies when it comes from a place of established influence. The Mizzou football players recognized their power within the community, and that’s why their protest made a marked difference.
The University of Missouri’s football team is part of the Southeast Conference — the largest football conference in the nation. Football is a major part of the culture for these colleges and, as a result, has the potential to cause change. Forfeiting the game would have resulted in a major financial loss to University of Missouri.
At universities with a large football culture, football is more than just a sport — it’s a business. Football and other big-name sports make the school money, and money is power. Though not everyone at University of Missouri is a football fan, it’s still such a large entity for the institution. As such, it has the ability to cause change.
We support the Concerned Student 1950 group and the student who went on hunger strike because we believe their efforts were important. However, it’s unfortunate that it was the group that has the most monetary power and influence that actually created a change.
The power is in numbers, but only on the back of football jerseys