Of Missouri, money, power & persuasion

Published 10:40 am Monday, November 16, 2015

Duke lost an ACC football game to Miami a couple of weeks ago on a wild play whose outcome, in retrospect, should never have been upheld. The next week, the Blue Devil football players marshaled themselves and moved on to the next game.

Wonder what would have happened if they’d marched en masse into the coach’s – or president’s – office and demanded the ACC reverse the decision, or they weren’t coming out to play Carolina, or any of their other remaining games?

I thought about that in light of what happened at the University of Missouri this week.

When the Missouri football team became a part of a campus protest against racial slurs and other indignities, the outcry reached more ears and picked up more momentum. It percolated to the point where, when it finally cooked, the school’s president and chancellor resigned under pressure.

That move was expedited by the power of an athletic team taking a bold stance against racism. They threatened to cease all football related activities: no practice and no games.

Had the football protest lasted through this Saturday, the game against BYU would have been canceled and Missouri would have had to pay a $1 million dollar cancelation fee to the Cougars.

Was it the power of the football team’s protest or the threat of losing a million dollars that led to the rapid resignations of two of the most powerful administrators at the Columbia campus?

And how many other athletic teams, from football to field hockey, have seen how much they can impact the intersection of social issues and the business of college athletics?

And here’s another question for you: what if players or teams decided to sit out games in protest of what they deem unfair?

At about every college campus across America, from the mega universities to apple-sauce college, administrators had to ponder that thought in their minds.

Remember a year ago when the Northwestern University football team wanted to be recognized as “employees” and then wanted to be represented by a labor union. The National Labor Relations Board, probably with tongues planted firmly in cheek, unanimously voted that the Wildcat football players could NOT form a union.

The players may not make money, but they’re aware they’ve got the power to make dang sure the school won’t either.

Compensation complaints are one thing, exposing a racial divide is an entirely different circumstance, but what we have witnessed at Missouri does speak to the power and financial strength of athletics and athletes.

When controversy collides with power its friction makes a spark and that spark can sometimes build into a bonfire.

A climate was created outside the University of Missouri that allowed the football team to take a successful stand, but it still took bravery within the entire school fabric to make it happen.

It could have reached a standoff, but what would that have proven? No one wants an impasse, especially when the solution is so insanely simple: treat people right and they will do the same in return.

This week we saw how the power of sports could help bring some resolution to what in reality is a much greater problem.

There was also something “60’s-ish” about what happened at Missouri this week: once you become aware of your power, you then use it to fix a system; sadly, a system that’s a long way from ever fixing itself.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer with Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.