What on earth was the University of Missouri’s Athletic Department thinking?
In the now-deleted post, three student athletes and one athletic department staff member are pictured with a caption that reads: “I am more than a student athlete,” or “I am more than a staff member.”
On the two photos featuring white females, the graphic boldly proclaims, “I Am a Future Doctor” and “I Am a Future Corporate Financer” (sic).
One photo featuring a young black woman simply states: “I Am an African American Woman,” and the other photo featuring a black male says: “I Value Equality.”
In a separate post, a black male student athlete is pictured with the caption: “I Am a Brother.”
This was not simply a matter of a junior social media staff member typing an errant tweet. Rather, the slick graphic is professionally produced and no doubt was edited and vetted by multiple school officials before it landed with a thud.
And no one saw a problem with declaring that white athletes were on the path to high-powered careers, and African American athletes were … African American?
The statements were pulled from videos in which each student athlete listed traits they admired about themselves. The full videos add context to the post. But the tin ear and lack of judgment in Mizzou Athletics are stunning — and deeply troubling.
“My first reaction, I was outraged,” said former MU standout quarterback and Kansas City attorney Corby Jones, who is African American. “Why did we choose those words for those (African American) individuals?
After calls to athletic department administrators, Jones came away with a better understanding of the university’s intent. The post was part of a broader NCAA-led inclusion initiative.
“It was just poorly constructed,” Jones said.
That’s an understatement. And the athletic department’s apology and follow-up video to celebrate diversity and inclusion fall far short of undoing the damage inflicted by this unforced error.
“Earlier we made a mistake when we posted a graphic about our student athletes,” the mea culpa read. “We apologize. Our intent was to provide personal information about our students, but we failed. We listened and removed the post. This video better represents our intent to celebrate our diversity.”
Who thought the demeaning tweet was a good idea in the first place?
Missouri Athletic Director Jim Sterk didn’t reply to messages seeking comment. But one thing Sterk should remember is that running from issues like this can backfire.
University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe was forced to step down after a 2015 student-led protest and threatened boycott by members of the school’s football team. It was Wolfe’s tone-deaf response to the concerns of minority students that accelerated racial unrest on campus.
Sterk would be wise to proactively address this issue and explain how the video was made, who produced it and who approved it.
The misguided post has deservedly drawn ridicule.
African American writer Angie Thomas, author of the New York Times’ bestselling books “The Hate You Gave” and “On the Come Up,” tweeted: “Uhhh” in response to the graphic.
One African American female Mizzou grad voiced her feelings on the issue by tweeting: “Disappointed but not surprised. I sit on a diversity committee at Mizzou and the work is daunting. Institutional structures that continually promote the dominant culture as the model for rightness/righteousness need to be dismantled. The reconciliation lies in doing better.”
And it’s up to the Sterk-led athletic department to do just that: Recruit, train and retain a more diverse and inclusive staff. And maybe in the short term, take a break from Twitter.