MU System president Tim Wolfe made no mention of resigning Sunday after black Tiger football players went on strike demanding he step down.
Wolfe released a statement Sunday afternoon saying the university would continue work on a systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy set to be unveiled next spring.
“In the meantime, I am dedicated to ongoing dialogue to address these very complex, societal issues as they affect our campus community,” Wolfe said.
Sophomore safety Anthony Sherrils tweeted on Saturday that the team’s black players have gone on strike.
A graduate of Hogan Prep in Kansas City, Sherrils tweeted: “The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere’ We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences. WE ARE UNITED.”
Those words were accompanied by a picture of a group of black football players linked in arm in arm as a show of solidarity. Forty-one of the 58 players on Missouri’s offensive and defensive depth charts are black.
Wolfe, who is president of the University of Missouri system, has come under fire in recent months for his response, or lack of response in some cases, to a flurry of racist episodes on the Columbia campus.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon weighed in Sunday on the racial tensions that prompted a strike by black players on the University of Missouri football team.
“Racism and intolerance have no place at the University of Missouri or anywhere in our state,” Nixon said. “Our colleges and universities must be havens of trust and understanding. These concerns must be addressed to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion.”
A pair of Republican state lawmakers, Reps. Caleb Jones and Steve Cookson, joined the call for Wolfe to resign.
It was unclear how the developments would affect Missouri’s next scheduled football game against Brigham Young on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Players told the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Columbia Missourian that they would answer questions about the movement at the regularly scheduled media day Monday afternoon.
Tigers football coach Gary Pinkel on Sunday tweeted: “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”
An athletics department spokesman told The Star via text message: “The department of athletics is aware of the declarations made tonight by many of our student-athletes. We all must come together with leaders from across our campus to tackle these challenging issues and we support our student-athletes right to do so.”
Missouri Students Association President Payton Head, a black student from Chicago, jump-started a conversation about race at Missouri in mid-September with a Facebook post about being berated with racial epithets went viral.
As more students came forward with similar stories, black students organized a rally, while MU’s administration sat largely silent for several days.
An Oct. 5 incident, when an inebriated white male student stumbled onto the stage and spewed epithets as members of the Legion of Black Collegians rehearsed a homecoming skit, put racism on Missouri’s campus back in the spotlight.
MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin immediately denounced the incident, but tensions continued to simmer.
During MU’s homecoming parade Oct. 10, several black students calling themselves Concerned Student 1950, including graduate student Jonathan Butler, surrounded Wolfe’s car and shouted chants, demanding to have marginalized voices heard, until Columbia police removed them from the parade route.
The Missouri Residence Hall Association confirmed that during the early-morning hours of Oct. 24 a student scrawled a swastika in human feces on the floor and wall of a dormitory.
Butler has since gone on a hunger strike, which entered its sixth day on Saturday, vowing not to eat until Wolfe steps down or is fired. He has expressed a willingness to die from starvation if necessary.
Wolfe admitted Friday to some missteps in his handling of sensitive issues regarding race on MU’s campus, but it might be too little and too late.
Missouri’s football players joined the protest, using arguably MU’s most visible platform to throw some massive heft behind Butler.
Ben Trachtenberg, chairman of the University of Missouri Faculty Council, posted a statement online addressing racial tensions on campus.
“Recent events on campus and beyond call for a public statement by the MU faculty. As Chair of the MU Faculty Council, I wish to offer my support to every person — especially every student — who is struggling to make Mizzou a more tolerant, peaceful, welcoming and robustly intellectual institution.”
“I offer my sympathy to all those who have borne the burden of the bigotry flowing within our community,” he wrote “If ignorance can be likened to a disease, then universities and their instructors must help to provide the cure. Those whose vocation is the pursuit and spread of knowledge have a special responsibility to assist in the effort.
“To our students who are hurting, please know that you are not alone,” Trachtenberg said. “Your faculty stand with you in desiring a more perfect university, and we will stand with you in working to make that desire real.
“Through our Race Relations Committee, our Diversity Enhancement Committee, and the actions of countless individual faculty members and groups of all sorts, the MU faculty will continue to work with our students — as well as anyone in the university administration, our alumni, and the broader community that loves Mizzou — to pursue justice.”