At least one former player thinks the Missouri legislature’s criticism of former football coach Gary Pinkel is misguided and misinformed.
Sen. Paul Wieland, a Republican from Imperial, threatened Wednesday to file a complaint against Pinkel, which would trigger a formal university investigation into his role supporting November’s boycott in solidarity with the Concerned Student 1950 protest.
“That’s not fair at all to try and lay anything at coach Pinkel’s feet,” said Ian Simon, who was a three-year starter at safety for the Tigers. “He (Wieland) wasn’t there, so he doesn’t know. That’s something that we (the players) did. We made that decision.”
Nearly three dozen Missouri’s players announced a boycott of all teams activities Nov. 7 until former University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned.
When Wolfe stepped down Nov. 9 after the football team’s action ramped up pressure on him and others Mizzou administrators, it was Simon who read a statement on Carnahan Quad that announced the end of the strike.
Simon said he wouldn’t change anything about how he and his teammates handled the situation.
“We thought out every step as best we could and we kept him (Pinkel) well-informed every step of the way,” Simon said. “I feel that we made all the right moves at the right times we did them. I feel like we handled it very well.”
He made it clear that the players acted without direction from anyone on the coaching staff.
“It’s easy to be a Mizzou fan when everything is going well and we’re winning games,” said Simon, who is training for the NFL Draft at Michael Johnson Performance in Dallas. “Somebody’s always going to want to point the finger and try to put the blame on someone, but it’s not fair to put it on coach Pinkel’s shoulders.”
Simon — who was the Tigers’ safety of the year last season after recording 46 tackles with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and four pass breakups — said Pinkel was informed midday on Nov. 7, several hours before the announcement on Twitter, about the planned boycott.
“He was behind us and he was supportive of us,” Simon said. “He understood the severity of it and how much we cared about it, so he supported us.”
Pinkel, who announced four days after Wolfe and former MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stepped down that he had follicular lymphoma and would retire, called a team meeting on Nov. 8 and the majority of the team, including many non-minority players, posed for a photo that underscored the team’s unity.
It’s unclear what recourse, if any, Pinkel had — not only as a government employee, when considering free-speech rights, but also as a coach, considering implications on player relationships and recruiting if he tried to quash the protest.
Simon said it’s a moot point, because Pinkel never wavered in his support, which garnered him additional respect from the players involved.
“That’s a tough thing to stand up for and stand behind,” Simon said. “It’s not only you on the line, but it’s your whole football program on the line. That’s tough, but hats off to coach Pinkel. It wasn’t an easy position to be in.”
Simon understands that some fans were unhappy with the boycott, but he defended the players’ right to use their platform to affect change. He also rankled at the notion that football players should simply shut up and play.
“That’s the thing that kind of irks me,” Simon said. “People see us as just football players. When you come to watch us play, it might be a leisure time for you. That’s something you might do with your family and your free time. You come to the game or watch us on TV, but I’m working.
“People don’t understand that. They think that you’re just out there playing a game. It may be a game to you, but this is my job. This is how I’m earning my scholarship and hoping to feed my family someday.”