Missouri’s football team made national news last November when the team boycotted practice for a few days (and threatened not to play BYU in a game at Arrowhead Stadium) amid racial unrest on campus.
An enrollment decline for 2016-17 is believed to be part of the fallout from protests that hastened the resignations of then-University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.
The boycott, which shined a much brighter spotlight on Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike and the wider protests than existed before, also led to a politically charged budget fight with the legislature.
It’s understandable if university officials, who have ramped up diversity initiatives on campus during the last eight months, would prefer not to have the furor revisited.
Instead, ESPN will honor the Tigers football team with a Stuart Scott Enspire Award, which “celebrates someone that has taken risk and used an innovative approach to helping the disadvantaged through the power of sports,” according to a release from the network.
“We were surprised, because we didn’t learn of it until they announced it,” Mizzou athletic director Mack Rhoades said.
According to ESPN, the Tigers’ players “took a huge risk — their scholarships could have been revoked and their futures hung in the balance. But their actions indicated it was a risk worth taking to help bring action to this critical issue.”
Tennis legend Billie Jean King and Patriots owner Robert Kraft also will receive Enspire Awards at the Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards, which will be hosted by Laila Ali on Tuesday at The Conga Room at L.A. Live in Los Angeles.
Rhoades doesn’t plan to attend the ceremony, but “somebody will be there to represent the University and we’ll accept the award,” he said.
The 2015 Mizzou football team and other Enspire Award winners also receive a $50,000 grant from ESPN to direct toward a qualified charity of its choice.
Highlights from the show will air in a 30-minute program at 6 p.m. July 15 on ESPN.