Government & Politics

Area lawmaker withdraws bill to yank scholarships from protesting athletes

Then-coach Gary Pinkel (center) celebrated with his Missouri Tigers football team after beating BYU on Nov. 14 at Arrowhead Stadium. A week earlier, amid racial tension on campus, the team had threatened a boycott if the chancellor and university system president did not resign.
Then-coach Gary Pinkel (center) celebrated with his Missouri Tigers football team after beating BYU on Nov. 14 at Arrowhead Stadium. A week earlier, amid racial tension on campus, the team had threatened a boycott if the chancellor and university system president did not resign. skeyser@kcstar.com

A Kansas City area lawmaker has withdrawn his bill requiring Missouri’s colleges to revoke scholarships for athletes who boycott games.

Missouri Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, withdrew the proposal Wednesday, less than a week after offering the measure. Word of his bill prompted a sharp debate across the state and nation on the free-speech rights of college athletes.

The measure would have required revocation of scholarships for any college athlete “who calls, incites, supports or participates in any strike or concerted refusal to play a scheduled game.” It also included fines for coaches who encourage or enable boycotts.

In a statement, Brattin said the bill was meant to prompt discussion.

“While I am withdrawing the legislation, I hope the conversation will continue so that we can take steps to ensure the University of Missouri is providing a stable, positive learning environment for our young people,” the statement said. “I sincerely believe students should be able to express their viewpoints, but I also believe our flagship state university has to keep and maintain the order that is expected from such an esteemed educational institution.”

On Nov. 7, more than 30 University of Missouri football players announced on Twitter a solidarity strike with the group Concerned Student 1950, threatening to boycott all practices and games until university system president Tim Wolfe resigned. The protests were prompted by reports of several racial incidents on the Columbia campus.

After a team meeting Nov. 8, then-football coach Gary Pinkel and the rest of the Tigers announced their support of the boycott. The team and coaches returned to practice only after Wolfe and R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor of the Columbia campus, announced their decisions to resign.

Missouri Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat, said Brattin had correctly decided to withdraw his bill.

“This unconstitutional legislation never should have been filed in the first place,” Ellington’s statement said. “Seeking to punish those who peacefully take a stand against racial injustice violates not only the constitutional right to free speech but the values we hold as Missourians.”

The measure was co-sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr, an O’Fallon Republican.

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc

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