COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri players made a statement Monday from the campsite of members of the Concerned Student 1950 movement explaining why the team chose to boycott all football activities until the hunger strike of student Jonathan Butler ended.
The team will resume football activities this week and prepare to play BYU on Saturday in Kansas City.
"It's not about us, we just wanted to use our platform to take a stance for a fellow concerned student on an issue, especially being as though a fellow black man's life was on the line," Missouri defensive back Ian Simon said while flanked by wide receiver J'Mon Moore and defensive end Charles Harris. "Due to the end of the hunger strike, we will be ending our solidarity strike to not practice and returning to our normal schedule as football players. It is a privilege to be playing for the University of Missouri's football team and we are very thankful for this opportunity. We love the game, but at the end of the day, it is just that — a game.
"Through this experience, we've really began to bridge that gap between student and athlete in the phrase student-athlete by connecting with the community and realizing the bigger picture. We will continue to build with the community and support positive change on Mizzou's campus. Though we don’t experience everything the general student body does and our struggles may look different at times, we are all Concerned Student 1950."
It was clear from the statement Harris made that the university's players knew of the power of their platform and could effect university change. President Tim Wolfe resigned from the school Monday morning and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said later that afternoon he would be moving to a different capacity at the end of the year.
"Let this be a testament to all athletes across the country," Harris said. "That you do have power. It started with a few individuals on our team and look at what it has become, look at where it's at right now. This is nationally known and it started with just a few."
Butler ended his hunger strike Monday morning after Wolfe's resignation. He spoke at a rally on campus at approximately 1 p.m. before being escorted to a car by other students. He refused interviews and students attempted to keep media away from Butler, who was wearing a hospital wristband, as he walked from the rally to the car. The media ban was selective, however. Butler did a phone interview with CNN after the rally.
The protest was spurred by perceived inaction by Missouri's leaders to racial incidents on campus and other recent university actions including a cut in graduate students' healthcare subsidies.
A Missouri spokesperson had said players decided not to do interviews Monday morning and instead preferred to attend an on-campus rally in the afternoon -- the whearabouts of which were unknown. As Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades held a press conference, Moore, Harris and Simon went to the Missouri student center.
The players later walked the short distance to the campsite to meet with other members of the movement and gave their reasoning for the boycott. Even before Harris made his statement regarding the power of the players' status, it was clear they were cognizant of the impact they had made on university leadership.
“In terms of answering the question about the community, I definitely want to make sure that everything is centralized about why we got here," Butler said during his rally. "Please stop focusing on the fact of the Mizzou Hunger Strike itself, look at why did we have to get here in the first place and why the struggle and why we had to fight the way that we did.
“At the end of all this, after all the letters that we sent, after all the in-person interactions, after all the forums we’ve attended after all the tweets and DMs that we’ve sent telling the administration about our pain, it should not have taken this much and it is disgusting and vile that we find ourself in the place that we do.
During Butler's rally, he led the crowd in a chant that included the words, "It's not a moment, it's a movement."
Moore said after the statement that he met with Butler on Wednesday and the movement among the football team went from there.
The players first tweeted messages about the boycott Saturday evening. Pinkel posted a picture with the message that the team stood united on Sunday morning. Pinkel said at a news conference Tuesday that he felt he did the right thing in supporting his players and he would do it again.
Pinkel reiterated many times during his news conference that his players' stand was about a man's life being on the line. Safety Anthony Sherrils' echoed that sentiment when he was asked about the fear of not playing against BYU. If Missouri had canceled the game, the school reportedly owed over $1 million.
"No, because a life is way more valuable than a game," Sherrils said. "And that's what we were doing it for. A life."
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