Thursday, February 4, 2016
February 4, 2016: Football Debates: Missouri Activism Update
[For each of the last few years, I’ve used Super Bowl week to AmericanStudy some football and/or sports topics. This week, I’ll focus on five football debates I haven’t already covered in those series, leading up to a special post on a few Super Bowl L storylines!]
On the latest twist in one of 2015’s biggest stories, and why it’s vital to resist it.
In one of my 2015 wrap up posts, I linked the inspiring protest by University of Missouri football players to the broader trend of campus protests, many of them linked to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and related issues. I stand by what I wrote in that post’s concluding paragraph, and would go even further—the Missouri football protest is one of the most unique and significant (and successful) examples of activism in American sports we’ve ever seen, and deserves not only our respect and praise but also our collective memory as one of the year’s—indeed, one of the young century’s—most meaningful collective actions.
If a Missouri state legislator has his way, however, the football protest’s legacy could be something quite different. Republican Representative Rick Brattin proposed a bill (co-sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr) that would strip athletic scholarships from any student athlete at a public university who “calls, incites, supports, or participates in any strike,” as well as fining any coaches or staff members who encourage or enable such student protests (as, of course and inspiringly, did Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel). As the ESPN.com story hyperlinked above under “Republican Representative…” notes, the bill runs afoul of both the 1st Amendment and the actual funding of the University of Missouri’s athletic department (which comes from internal revenue and not state appropriations), and is thus perhaps more of a symbolic response to the football protests than an actual policy proposal. But even as the former, it’s a deeply troubling step and one that demands our attention and response.
I can’t imagine a clearer and compelling such response to the bill than that provided by Missouri football player and protest leader Ian Simon (also quoted in that ESPN.com article): “They want to call us student-athletes, but they keep us out of the student part of it. I’m more than just a football player…Our sport is just a small part of who we are.” Indeed, perhaps the most troubling aspect of Brattin’s bill is the implicit but crystal clear assumption that college athletes are brought to campus and supported solely to participate in their sports, and that if they step outside that role, they can and should be stripped of their support. Given how much more money is made off of big-time college athletes (and especially football players) than they are ever compensated (in any form), this attitude is particularly galling. But in any case, the simple fact is that the vast, vast majority of college football players will never play professionally—meaning that their time in college is instead, as for their peers, a chance to prepare them for the rest of their lives. I shudder to think what life and world Brattin believes they should be prepared for.
Last debate tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?