Yael T. Abouhalkah

Yael T. Abouhalkah: Black football players’ strike thrusts MU into national spotlight on racial unrest

University of Missouri students rallied last Wednesday in Columbia, calling for the resignation of MU system president Tim Wolfe.
University of Missouri students rallied last Wednesday in Columbia, calling for the resignation of MU system president Tim Wolfe. The Associated Press

The announced strike by black football players at the University of Missouri is far more than a sports story. It further thrusts the school into the national spotlight regarding racial unrest, especially on college campuses.

The players are seeking a huge change. They want the resignation or firing of the state’s top university official, president Tim Wolfe.

Others have called for that action — including a student engaged in a hunger strike — but the involvement of the school’s best-known sports team demonstrably increased attention to this issue.

MU Coach Gary Pinkel upped the ante late Sunday morning with this tweet: “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”

A few hours later, Wolfe released a statement saying he and others were working to resolve the crisis, but no resignation was announced.

Something of importance is likely to happen in the coming hours and days.

Among the possibilities:

▪ Wolfe leaves.

▪ A truce is brokered.

▪ The players are punished.

The ouster of Wolfe would be justified for his questionable decisions in handling the racial problems at MU. He took too long to take them seriously, even appearing to rebuff some calls for discussions by interested students.

Under this scenario, the action taken by the football players is the final straw.

A truce could make sense if it brought some calmness to the campus, while appearing to give all sides a chance to work out reasonable improvements on racial issues. That’s what Wolfe apparently hopes will happen.

But no matter what happens to Wolfe, discussions with top student organizations on the best ways to make things better are desperately required in Columbia. Getting rid of one administrator is not the ultimate answer.

Finally, on social media and call-in shows, a backlash has occurred to the players’ actions. Many players receive scholarships to attend MU. In exchange, they practice and play games that make the university a lot of money and reap it plenty of attention on sports pages across the country. The critics’ claim: The players should lose their scholarships if they are not going to keep up their end of the bargain.

That drastic action is not going to occur.

Pressure exists to deal with the Wolfe situation.

Notably, the MU football squad is scheduled to play Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium against Brigham Young. Because roughly half of MU’s players are black, if a strike lasted until the weekend, the team would be in danger of not being able to participate in that contest. The result would be a loss of money to the athletic program and national embarrassment for the school.

Things are not likely to go that far.

At this point, the resignation of Wolfe appears to be the most probable outcome.

That would “save” the football season, end the hunger strike and produce some sense of calmness on the MU campus.

However, it also would only be a starting point for the real change that needs to happen regarding race relations and the need to take diversity seriously at the university.