Thoughts from a reader about the University of Missouri football strike

November 11, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


I really appreciated Carl Dix’s statement, “Which Side Are You On? Statement of Support for University of Missouri Studentsand wanted to add a few thoughts about one aspect of why this is such an important moment.

I want to address the significance of the fact that the football team at the University of Missouri joined with the weeks of protest by students, including the brave hunger striker Jonathan Butler, who put themselves on the line against racist threats and incidents on campus and demanded that the university act on this and oust the head of the university.

Specifically, I want to address the fact that this team declared that until the demands were met, we refuse to practice or to play. No team in this country has, since the 1960s, to my knowledge, REFUSED TO PLAY until political demands were met (there have been player strikes over contracts and conditions). This is truly a big deal and it literally rocked society. Several media accounts I saw called the football team’s stand a “revolt.” The Chicago Tribune editorial board called it “amazing” and said, “When the football team spoke, that was a fearsome and unavoidable voice of dissent.”

This act of refusing to play crossed a certain line in America. Football culture is a big part of American culture. I grew up deeply embedded in that culture. There’s more of a military flavor and discipline to football than in many other sports. As with many team sports, the whole ethos is about “the team” and “winning”—winning football games against other football teams, not standing together and refusing to play football for the greater good. They are definitely not supposed to use their team spirit, cohesion, training, and discipline to tackle the injustices of society to win something that really matters. But that’s what the MU team, not just individual players, did here—together they put it all on the line, they risked their athletic scholarships and future careers to help a “bigger team” win. And the coach and athletic director stood with the players. And that is something new on the landscape. In terms of societal cohesion, THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. But it did happen, and it’s a really good thing for the side of all those who want to end the horrors of national oppression and all oppression. And it’s a threatening thing to the powers that be. And it happened in the context of Rise Up October in New York and the attacks on Quentin Tarantino and the continuing battle around that. And we have to appreciate this and learn from it and build on it as Carl Dix said in his statement.

This action by the football team impacted the football world, which is a big section of mainstream America and a major part of American culture and ideology, as well as being a powerful industry. It was all over ESPN and the sports social media. Through the avenue of the “sports world,” the question of white supremacy and its ugly and devastating effects were brought right to the doorstep of millions of fans, many of whom may never have seriously thought about this before. (In the mid 1960s in high school, I only read the sports section and the comics in the newspaper, I didn’t watch the TV news. The way I learned that there was an uprising of Black people going on in “the big city” only 100 miles away was because one of the stars on “my” NFL football team had to miss a game because he was in the National Guard, which was called out to put down the uprising!)

What this Missouri University team did has set an example and an objective challenge to other sports teams across the country, and everybody else, about what it means to stand up, and what courage and team spirit can and should be used for. On a CNN interview, a player said, “Look what a couple of people can do!” He said two players on the team took a stand in support of Jonathan Butler and the demands, then 30 other Black players joined in, and then the whole team, including the coach and the athletic director, united. According to media interviews, the MU students have heard from colleges all over the country that what they did is emboldening students to step up the fight.

As I was trying to wrap my mind around this football player strike, it made me think about what does this say about what the mood of people and the conditions that could develop into a revolutionary situation could look like— when many different and unexpected blocs of people begin to refuse to tolerate things they tolerated for a long time and start to act in ways they have never acted before, and what impact that has on the further polarization of society where other people are jolted and have to take sides. And what the role of revolutionaries is in hastening all this, including right now in seizing new openings created by this situation.


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