Nocera: In Missouri resignations, athletes’ otential is realized
Well, that was fast.
When was it, exactly, that the African-American football players at the University of Missouri tweeted that they were going on strike until 'President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed' from office? It was Saturday night, around 9 p.m. Eastern.
Now consider the following timeline, which the Columbia Missourian recently published.
On Sept. 12, Payton Head, president of the Missouri Student Association, takes to Facebook to describe a campus incident during which the most vile of anti-black slurs was hurled at him. A second racial incident occurs on Oct. 5. By Oct. 10, dissatisfied by the administration's tepid response, a group called Concerned Student 1950 stages a protest during the homecoming parade. Ten days later, the group issues eight demands, including 'an increase in the percentage of black faculty and staff,' as well as Wolfe's removal from office.
A swastika drawn with feces is discovered in a bathroom on Oct. 24. Concerned Student 1950 has an inconclusive meeting with Wolfe three days later. Jonathan Butler, a protest leader, announces a hunger strike on Nov. 2. Another meeting with Wolfe takes place the next day, during which he promises, essentially, to do better.
In other words, nearly two months had gone by before the football players decided to get involved. Once they did, Wolfe lasted all of 36 hours. Later in the day, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said he would resign as well, effective at the end the year.
In announcing his resignation Monday morning, Wolfe said he was motivated by his 'love' for his alma mater. No doubt he was sincere. But it is hard to believe that his calculations didn't include money as well: the $1 million that Missouri would be contractually obliged to pay Brigham Young University if the Tigers failed to play Saturday's game; and the mess it would create for itself — and the Southeastern Conference, which it joined only four years ago — if a players' strike lasted to the end of the season. Missouri's final SEC game in late November, against Arkansas, is scheduled to be televised by CBS, which pays the conference $55 million a year for television rights.
As Andy Schwarz, an economist who has been deeply involved in a series of antitrust lawsuits against the NCAA, put it, 'the issues at Missouri are far more important than college football, but the Missouri athletes showed that the color that matters most is green.'
Will racism be eliminated from the Missouri campus now that the football players have succeeded in ousting Wolfe? Of course not. On a campus of about 35,000 students, only 7.2 percent are black. The school has worked to attract more students from urban centers, including outside of Missouri, which can create a cultural conflict with some in-state rural white students.
In addition to the incidents in which black students were called that repugnant name on a public street, there have also been several times recently when two trucks drove down a campus street with the occupants waving a Confederate battle flag.
'It's a very tense place, very racially tense,' Stephanie Hernandez Rivera, coordinator of the university's Multicultural Center, said in a video released by the Faculty Council Committee on Race Relations. Earnest L. Perry, an African-American journalism professor, told me that teaching a required journalism diversity course throughout the years opened him to 'criticism and racism, both written and verbal; I am not immune.'
No, it's going to take more than the resignation of its president to fix the racial problems affecting Mizzou. On the other hand, Wolfe didn't do himself any favors. A former corporate executive, he had a command-and-control style that didn't jibe well with campus life. And he clearly didn't know how to respond to the protests.
Qiana Jade, a Missouri student, posted a video on Twitter showing an exchange between Wolfe and some protesters. It shows him clearly out of his element — and on his heels. Asked by the students to define 'systematic oppression,' he said, 'I'll give you an answer, and I'm sure it will be a wrong answer.' Pressed further, he said, 'Systematic oppression is because you don't believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.'
The students erupted in anger. As Wolfe walked away, a student yelled: 'Did you just blame us for systematic oppression, Tim Wolfe? Did you just blame black students?'
Jade posted that video Friday night. By Saturday night, most of her Twitter energy was devoted to spreading the word that black members of the football team had joined the protest.
'So proud of our young black men!!' she tweeted. 'They are really stepping up.'