Mizzou Football Players Pledge A Strike, Citing Systemic Racism | St. Louis Public Radio

Mizzou Football Players Pledge A Strike, Citing Systemic Racism

University of Missouri football players have pledged to go on strike until university President Tim Wolfe resigns. They're joining several other student groups criticizing the way he has handled a string of racially charged incidents. Koran Addo, a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, explains the situation.

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Now we want to take a look at how one American campus is dealing with some racial tensions. Football players at the University of Missouri have announced a strike, with 30 athletes pledging to stop participating in games or football-related activities until university President Tim Wolfe resigns or is replaced. They object to his handling of several racially charged incidents on campus. School officials have pledged to create a diversity and inclusion training program, but student activists say that is not enough. Koran Addo has reported on this story for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and he is with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

KORAN ADDO: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: What are some of the incidents that gave rise to this? Can you give us a sense of what sparked this whole thing?

ADDO: Well, what you have is a campus of roughly 30,000 students, and only seven percent African-American. And so you have had several small incidents. And two of the big incidents - you had a - the student body president, Payton Head - he was walking on campus in October. And a group of men in a pickup truck drove by, yelling racial slurs at him. That kind of really sparked things because if it could happen to him, you know, it's happening to everybody 'cause he's a very visible person. You had another incident where, you know, students were preparing for a presentation for homecoming - a black student group. And a student walked by and directed some racial slurs towards them.

So what have here is students saying that, you know, we're very small. This is a very segregated campus already. Black students kind of stick together. They stick to each other. They don't feel welcome in the overall community. They say that they can't even walk near the fraternities on campus because racial slurs are being directed at them at all times. They say they can't go to certain restaurants on campus or even closely off campus because, you know, they feel this sort of hostility towards them. So it's a general feeling of black students feeling unwelcome on the Mizzou campus. And their concerns have not really been heard by the administration. The administration is aloof. The administration is not taking their concerns seriously.

MARTIN: And what does the administration say about that? I understand that the university president, Tim Wolfe, has responded with a statement today. What is he saying, and what has he been saying?

ADDO: He's acknowledged that racism is a problem, specifically on campus. He's saying that it's intolerable, that it's not acceptable, but, really, that's been about it. I mean, it's been a bunch of press releases. He's met with some students, either the student on campus right now - there's a graduate student who's been on a hunger strike. Today's his six day, and he says he's going to forgo all nutrition until the president resigns. But really all we've gotten is a bunch of statements that say, you know, racism is bad. We need to do something about it. There really hasn't been anything concrete.

MARTIN: Today there's another statement from the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon. He commented, saying that, quote, "racism and intolerance have no place at the University of Missouri or anywhere in our state," unquote. Apart from that, though, can - do you have any sense of how the broader student body is responding to this?

ADDO: Well, people are frankly amazed. There have been different student groups on campus that have really been at the forefront of this. And what's happened is they've been calling for the athletes to get involved. You know, they say the athletes have a lot of clout. The athletes have a lot of attention on them. The athletes can make a difference. So there's been this call, mostly on social media, you know, for - why aren't our athletes saying anything?

And last night, I guess you could say the athletes, you know, answered the call and really gave a pretty stunning decision that they're not going to participate in any sort of football activities until the present designs. Now, this is a football school. The football team has a lot of attention on it. They bring a lot of money to the university, so now there's a sense that, you know, this is real. You know, this is real. This is not just, you know, a group of disaffected students that are making noise. This is something that people need to sit up and pay attention to.

MARTIN: Koran Addo is a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Koran, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ADDO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.