By Garrett Aleckson —
The pain and effects of racism are real and serious. That sentiment should be well known, yet we still have issues of racism that continue to occur.
Most of us outside of the state Missouri had not heard about the racial conflict and the issues on the campus of the University of Missouri—not until an important group of people joined the cause.
The issues on the Missouri campus had been building long before they had gained media attention. Many instances of racial tension happened many years prior. In a story about how the Missouri race protests began, Associated Press (AP) stated that Jonathan Butler—a Missouri graduate student—had experienced racially-motivated events on campus as an undergraduate student as early as 2008.
A swastika with human excrement, and multiple occasions of verbal assaults with the N-word were too much. Because the school’s president ignored the concerns of Butler and many other students, Butler decided he would rather starve and that he would continue to starve until Wolfe was no longer the school president.
In the story by AP, they state that by the time a group of players for the football team finally met with Butler, he had been starving for six days. He was too frail to stand. After the players talked, they decided to stand behind him, took a photo of them standing with Butler, and tweeted it. The football team—with the support of their head coach—had decided that they would not practice or play until Butler was able to eat again.
The move by the football team did more than what many social activists were attempting to do—bring spotlight to the issues and experiences that African American students were having on a predominately white college campus. The threat of not playing in a game that would take place in Arrowhead Stadium—home of the Kansas City Chiefs professional football team—was estimated to cost the university roughly $1 million.
Sports are often times viewed as just games. But sports are not just games. The student-athletes—who are oftentimes powerless to do anything for themselves because of regulations by their universities, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)—were finally able to exercise power. But when the powerless exercise some semblance of power, it is often met with backlash.
The vitriol toward the football players from fans and others is telling. The faculty stood behind the students that protested against the president. As stated in an article from National Public Radio (NPR), a group of faculty members planned a walkout in support of the student activists.
The players took the risk of losing scholarships. In the midst of an environment that was so tense, they chose to stand behind a student who was starving. The players saw someone in need and decided to help.
The irony and hypocrisy of the backlash is also clear. They are supposedly not only there for the sport that they are participating in, but they are also there for their education. But when they decided to take action for something other than their sport and the fan’s entertainment, those athletes received the backlash. The athletes were not the only ones who received backlash, however.
Protests in the middle of the university quad consisted of journalists trying to work. The students were exchanging ideas and having discussions about those issues without fear of being judged for having those feelings. Students and other activists—some were faculty—were so emotionally invested in the issues that they have had to endure that they tried to force a journalist out of the area.
There are two competing truths. Students are allowed to protest on campus for a safe environment from racism, and the media is allowed to do their job. They are both true. The clash of the activists and media members, however, has underscored the problems on campus. It is not just about free expression, but it is also about a safe environment for everyone involved. And it overlooks the largest truth of this whole situation.
It looks over the fact that racism is the cause of the protests in the first place. The clash of protesters and media members should not diminish how important that is. Without the Missouri football players standing with Butler, we can only guess at how differently things would have ended.