Missouri, football, and race (a light Sunday morning read)

As I mentioned in an article last week, we sometimes ignore the actual people behind the jerseys, to our detriment. On Saturday, on a typical crazy day in which contenders lost across the country, the University of Missouri football team made the news when members of the football team went on strike.

Wait, they can do that? It feels unprecedented, but it’s not. The Grambling State University team in 2013 refused to get on a bus heading to a road game to protest their university president and deteriorating conditions.

The reason for the strike is race. Jonathan Butler, a Missouri grad student, started a hunger strike on Monday. He wants the university president tossed from his job because of what is perceived is lack of response to multiple examples of racism on the Columbia campus.

Today will be Butler’s seventh day without food. He is drinking water but refuses any additional nutrition. It’s shocking to hear of this type of non-violent protest only if you’re not at all paying attention. I used to joke that Missouri was added to the SEC because the state was on the Confederate side during the Civil War. You think of the state as Midwestern, where people are hardworking and maybe have those funny accents from the TV show Fargo but nope. The Columbia campus is like a lot of big colleges, majority Caucasian-American with the population of the football and basketball teams flipping the script. The result is individuals feel OK with yelling out a racial slur, and in one extreme condition, smearing a swastika with their own feces.

That last person needs to be studied. If you want to scrawl a Nazi symbol on a residential hall, you’re telling me you couldn’t track down a sharpie or a piece of chalk? Your own poo? This represents the toddler-level thinking of too many students at the school, and sadly, many grown-ass adults in this country.

I throw in a joke because otherwise I just want to facepalm all day. I focus my writing on this site on sports, one of the main hobbies that adds to our tribalism that makes it easy to “other” people and flippantly call people names that if they were directed at us, might lead to violence. Perhaps in this case sports can bring people together, and at least get the message of Jonathan Butler out to a wider audience. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity, and if the man in charge of the university is lax in his duties, he’s gotta go.

Additional reading, as I just can’t…

A letter in support of Jonathan Butler

First story about the hunger strike, from the Columbia Missourian where I did some of my undergrad time

Dave Zirin on the Grambling State strike and the history of football players demanding better conditions

Details leading up to the hunger strike and the football team’s strike

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