Missouri’s football team met Sunday in the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex, a day after a collection of black football players announced a boycott of team-related activities until MU System President Tim Wolfe was removed from office.
Following the meeting, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel’s verified account tweeted a picture, similar in composition to the one announcing the boycott, that included dozens of players and coaches of various ethnic backgrounds linked arm-in-arm with a caption that read, “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players. #ConcernedStudent1950 GP”
Missouri canceled a scheduled practice for Sunday afternoon, and players and coaches consistently declined requests for comment.
The Tigers’ regular weekly media availability is slated for Monday afternoon, but Pinkel and Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades issued a joint statement Sunday afternoon:
“Today, Sunday, there will be no football practice or formal team activities. Our focus right now is on the health of Jonathan Butler, the concerns of our student-athletes and working with our community to address this serious issue. After meeting with the team this morning, it is clear they do not plan to return to practice until Jonathan resumes eating. We are continuing to have department, campus, and student meetings as we work through this issue and will provide further comment tomorrow afternoon.”
Butler, who on Sunday was in the seventh day of a hunger strike aimed at forcing Wolfe’s ouster, has emerged as the central figure in the Concerned Student 1950 movement, which has sought redress from the MU administration in the wake of a string of racist incidents on campus during the last two months.
Wolfe released a statement Sunday that acknowledged the need for change and concluding, “I am dedicated to ongoing dialogue to address these very complex, societal issues as they affect our campus community.”
He did not address the calls for his resignation.
Politicians statewide, including Gov. Jay Nixon and Sen. Claire McCaskill, weighed in throughout the day about the ongoing protests on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus.
Racial tensions on the MU campus were heightened last season as the topic of systemic racism was thrust into the national spotlight by the police shooting of Michael Brown and the ensuing unrest in Ferguson, Mo., which is located less than 120 miles from Columbia.
The inciting incident during the 2015-16 academic year appears to have occurred in mid-September, when Missouri Students Association president Payton Head, a black student from Chicago, was peppered with the N word by a passing motorist.
He wrote about the experience in graphic detail on Facebook and his post, which is explicit, went viral.
Head’s story prompted more students to speak out and organize.
Two weeks later, a drunk white male student interrupted the rehearsal of a homecoming skit by the Legion of Black Collegians on campus and repeatedly spewed the N word.
MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who was slow to react along with Wolfe after Head’s story made national news, immediately denounced the incident.
Missouri identified and removed that student from campus and announced mandatory diversity training for all incoming freshmen beginning in January.
It did little to quell tensions, which escalated again after Concerned Student 1950 members interrupted the homecoming parade by surrounding Wolfe’s car in protest only to be forcefully removed by Columbia police.
Two weeks ago, a swastika was scrawled on the floor and wall of a campus dormitory in human feces.
Butler, who was part of the group that protested during the homecoming parade, has expressed a willingness to die from starvation unless Wolfe resigns or is fired.
Missouri is scheduled to play BYU at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, but that game might be canceled if there is no resolution before the weekend.
If the Tigers are forced to cancel the game, MU would owe BYU $1 million plus any attorneys’ fees resulting from attempts to collect the liquidated damages, according to the game contract signed last November.
Butler’s story was beginning to draw attention regionally and nationally, but the Missouri football team’s move to join the protest kicked national exposure into overdrive.
The Legion of Black Collegians released a photo Saturday night, which was quickly retweeted by sophomore safety and Hogan Prep graduate Anthony Sherrils among other players, that showed several Tigers linking arms with Butler and announced the boycott.