After Mizzou Protest, Lawmakers Want to Punish Football Players Who Strike

A proposed bill would revoke the athletic scholarships of athletes who participate in campus activism.
The Missouri Tigers. (Photo: Twitter/Coach Gary Pinkel)
Dec 15, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

When the University of Missouri’s football team went on strike last month to protest the administration’s handling of racial harassment on campus, it took less than 48 hours for school president Tim Wolfe to resign from his post. Owing to the revenue big-time college football brings to a university, and the endorsement of head coach Gary Pinkel, the student-led boycott was incredibly effective, drawing national attention to what had been barely reported.

Now, two Missouri legislators want to make it tougher for college sports teams to organize as activists on campus.

RELATED: Students Claim Victory After University of Missouri President Resigns

Republican Rep. Rick Brattin prefiled a bill in the Missouri House of Representatives last week that would revoke the scholarships of athletes who participate in a strike. Cosponsored by Republican Rep. Kurt Bahr, the proposed amendment to the state’s statutes on higher education would also impose fines on coaching staff who encourage or enable such a boycott by the team’s players. John Fougere, a spokesperson for the university, did not immediately respond to TakePart’s request for comment.

The bill comes as tensions have continued to escalate on campus despite the ouster of its key administrator. On Monday, the University of Missouri Police Department arrested 18-year-old student Nathan Benz for making a terrorist threat on the social media app Yik Yak, according to University of Missouri spokesperson Christian Basi. It is unclear whether the threats were racially motivated.

The state bill has drawn outrage on social media, where Mizzou student and activist Jonathan L. Butler called it an “anti-black” tactic, and former NFL player Matthew A. Cherry compared it to a form of “modern day slavery,” noting that college athletes are not allowed to unionize. Of the 99 University of Missouri football players listed on the 2015 roster, 84 are funded by athletic scholarships—and 58 of those players are African American, The Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Still, some critics of the bill argued that it would have little effect, considering that Tiger Scholarship Funds for football players come from private donations, not state contributions. Even without a state law, National Collegiate Athletic Association regulations authorize a school’s coaches and athletic director to cancel a student’s athletic scholarship at any time if he or she does not “maintain academic, social, or athletic responsibilities,” the university’s student athlete handbook states.

The Mizzou protest began to gain steam when Butler, a member of the campus group Concerned Student 1950, launched a hunger strike on Nov. 2 demanding Wolfe’s removal from office. In a Facebook post stating his goals, Butler cited the administration’s inaction in the face of racially charged incidents, including a swastika made of human feces that was smeared on a campus wall. Just days after Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned, the University of Missouri Police Department arrested 19-year-old Hunter Park for making racially charged threats on Yik Yak following Wolfe’s resignation.

Brattin and Bahr aren’t alone in their opposition to the football team’s activism. Former Mizzou linebacker Luke Lambert garnered headlines when he wrote on Facebook last month that football players had “no business” participating in student protests, and that pledging not to play was irresponsible to the donors who help pay for athletic scholarships. But the university’s athletics department overwhelmingly voiced its support of the players’ involvement, tweeting at the time that the school “must come together with leaders from across our campus to tackle these challenging issues.”