The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Missouri player says many players, coaches don’t back boycott of practices

Student protesters camping out on the University of Missouri campus. (Allison Long/The Kansas City Star via AP)
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[UPDATE 11:30 a.m.] The president of the University of Missouri resigned Monday amid escalating protests over racist incidents on campus and how he had responded to students’ concerns. (Read More)


Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said his players were “united” in their decision to boycott practice until a fellow student ends a hunger strike he started in protest of racial incidents and an alleged racial attitude at the school, but one player told ESPN that there isn’t unanimity on the team.

“As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches — black and white — are pissed,” the player, who requested anonymity, told Brett McMurphy. “If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.” The player added that coaches had instructed them not to speak to members of the media because they thought the situation “would blow over eventually.”

[Why Missouri players are boycotting]

For now, though, it has not. Missouri is 4-5 and there was no practice Sunday for next weekend’s game against BYU in Kansas City. Whether there will be a game remains to be seen, but Pinkel supports his players. He tweeted a photo of the entire team Sunday, saying, “We are behind our players.”

Later Sunday, he and Athletic Director Mark Rhoades issued a joint statement, in which they expressed concern for Jonathan Butler, a graduate student who began a hunger strike last month, not long after a feces-smeared swastika appeared on a dorm wall.

[Missouri football players take a strong social stand]

“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,” Pinkel and Rhoades said.

“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 [on Missouri’s usual game week media day].”

Michael Scherer, a junior linebacker from St. Louis, took issue on Twitter with those who said that an earlier photo that showed only part of the football team indicated division over the boycott.

[A hunger strike makes a statement]

Butler, a graduate student, began his hunger strike Nov. 2, telling the Post four days later: “My body feels like it’s on fire. I have pain all over. I’m exhausted. Of course, I’m hungry. I’ve got an ongoing headache.”

Butler said he was just drinking water — no multivitamins, no painkillers — until University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe steps down. Butler and other black students blame Wolfe for what they say is the school’s failure to address the rising tide of racism on campus.
“I already feel like campus is an unlivable space,” said Butler, who is African American. “So it’s worth sacrificing something of this grave amount, because I’m already not wanted here. I’m already not treated like I’m a human.”

The protest extends beyond Butler and the football team, to the campus-wide Concerned Student 1950 activist group named for the year in which Missouri first admitted African-American students. Among the demands is the resignation of university president Tim Wolfe, whose response to alleged incidents, including students who have been called the N-word, has been deemed sluggish by the group.

Butler, according to the unnamed football player who spoke with ESPN, met with some players Saturday night.

“Not everyone agrees with the decision [to stop all football activities],” the player said. “Most people are pissed, including the black guys [on the team].”

On Saturday night, sophomore defensive back Anthony Sherrils tweeted a statement from Concerned Student 1950 and added:

“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere.’ We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”

Wolfe promised action but offered no resignation Sunday and it is unclear whether the BYU game or the other two on the schedule can be saved. The Saturday night game is to be broadcast by the SEC Network and if it is canceled, Missouri is contractually obligated to pay BYU $1 million. On Sunday afternoon, a spokesperson for ESPN, the SEC Network’s parent company, told The Post that it had no comment on what remains a hypothetical situation. Meanwhile, protests continue on the campus with an enrollment of 35,000.

“It is clear to all of us that change is needed,” Wolfe said in a statement, “and we appreciate the thoughtfulness and passion which have gone into the sharing of concerns. My administration has been meeting around the clock and has been doing a tremendous amount of reflection on how to address these complex matters.”