*If you didn’t know the power of black athletes before football players at the University of Missouri refused to play until the school’s president stepped down, then now you know. In a big way.
According to The Washington Post, the move represented a “vivid illustration” of the “potential power” of a group that comprises a small bit of the student body.
“If you look at black undergraduate men, they could do very little in defense of themselves, given their small numbers,” Shaun R. Harper, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, told the publication. “Given the large number of black men on the football team there, they can do something and they did something.”
The football players’ efforts paid off as University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe took the hint and announced he would step down amid protests from black students regarding incidents of racism that have taken place on campus.
A 2013 report from Harper shows that between 2007 and 2010, black men made up 2.8 percent of full-time, degree-seeking undergraduates at the 76 schools in the six big athletic conferences. Despite this, 57.1 percent of football teams and 64.3 percent of basketball teams were comprised of black males. The most recently released information from the NCAA found that black men currently make up 65.3 percent of the University of Missouri’s football team.
The Post notes the significance of the football player’s actions, saying, “The young men of Missouri’s football team not only showed how they could amplify the short-term public relations hit facing the school when graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike. They also threatened the school with a financial loss from an unplayed game and a longterm stigma as a place that’s hostile to minorities.
“I do not think they knew until this most recent situation just how much collective impact and influence they could have,” Harper says. “Without the black players, you have no football team.”
Taking a deeper look at the issue, the Post mentioned that “racial inequity in education has been an issue for a long time” as young players generate millions for the universities they play for. All this as the publication wonders, “Why did it take so long for college athletes to make use of the power they hold?”
“”They’ve been trying to use that power on their own behalf, intermittently, for a couple of decades. But until recently, they hadn’t made the leap to action in the interest of a broader group with which they identified,” the Post acknowledged.
With noticeable results coming from the player’s moves at the University of Missouri, National College Players Association founder Ramogi Huma believes that things are starting to shift in favor of taking a stand for the right way of doing things.
“The comments are the same in the locker room. There’s a lot of feelings of injustice among the players, and that hasn’t changed,” Huma shared with the Post, adding that the difference is that “players are now more informed. You’re seeing players speaking out spontaneously.”
Mizzou isn’t the only school experiencing the power of black athletes. Evidence can be found at the University of Arkansas, where a running back referenced the killing of Michael Brown by making the “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” gesture after a touchdown last year. Also worth noting is a move the University of Oklahoma football team made in March that amounted to a silent protest of a racist video made by one of the school’s white students.
While this is good, Huma feels a union would give college athletes even greater power. If unions were a option, the “additional level of security,” as the Post puts it, could provide more power for athletes to stand up for other students. With the situation at Mizzou, it looks as though black male athletes have more power now than what they had in the past.
“There’s a real opportunity here for black male student athletes to step up in other places in support of other black students, and in support of themselves,” Harper stated to the Post.
For more on the power of black athletes, click here.