How Missouri's football team can now help the campus heal

Pat Forde

I have a modest proposal for the University of Missouri.

Call it Mondays with Mizzou Football.

This past Monday, the Missouri system president and chancellor stepped down as a direct result of the muscle flexed by the football program. Weeks of simmering racial tension on campus hit a full boil last weekend when the football players announced their support of the activist group Concerned Student 1950, which was seeking the ouster of said president, Tim Wolfe, for failure to adequately address a few racial incidents.

On Saturday night, the Tigers said they wouldn't practice or play until Wolfe was gone. On Sunday, the national media flocked to document this athletic insurrection.

On Monday morning, Wolfe was gone.

Thus we discovered the latent power of a college football team – even a 4-5 team in the midst of a highly disappointing season – to grab the world's attention and focus it on an issue. We discovered the impact a football team can have on its campus.

The influence of the Missouri football team helped lead to the resignation of the school president. (Getty Images)
The influence of the Missouri football team helped lead to the resignation of the school president. (Getty Images)

Now here is my proposal: next Monday, a week after leveraging the president out of his job, the football team should be the bonding agent in a low-key, come-together rally on campus. Be a force for healing.

Monday is the players' day off from football activities. I would love to see them take some of that precious free time and gather, as a team, in the same quadrangle that has been the site of so much turmoil this fall. I would love to see the Tigers bring a sack lunch (unlimited food from the Missouri Athletic Training Center, right?) to the quad and invite everyone on campus to join them.

Students. Faculty. Staff. Protestors. Non-protestors.

It would be great to witness that same, arms-locked solidarity that was tweeted out to the world over the weekend extended to a live meet-and-greet with the rest of the student body. That was a strong symbol – but it was basically a photo op, from the confines of the football complex. How about locking arms with engineering students and journalism students and anyone else who shows up on Monday, and extending that solidarity to the campus at large?

I would love to see a football-led gathering that is long on respect and short on rhetoric. A gathering that is spoken, not shouted. A gathering that has more substance and less sloganeering. A gathering that is built on a student body reconnecting instead of tearing itself apart.

The football team doesn't need to grab megaphones and make grand proclamations. Make it a No Shouting Zone. Make it No Signs Allowed. Just show up. No set agenda. Just come together.

Engage in calm conversations with fellow students about how to make a toxic situation better again. Encourage a free – but civil and constructive – exchange of ideas.

Take an hour. Rebuild some bridges. Bring back the nationwide media attention for something altogether different.

By all reports as of Thursday, the Mizzou campus was still a fearful, angry, tense place. A lot of classes have been canceled. There have been threats, and at least one incident of vandalism. Administrators have fired off a fusillade of emails to parents of students – I'm one of them – assuring us that their kids are safe.

A safe campus is certainly a minimum goal. Let's help to upgrade the aspirations to a cohesive campus. Dare to dream, maybe even an enjoyable, vibrant place once again.

Given the current climate, it's probably best that Missouri's game against BYU on Saturday is being played in Kansas City. A nerves-exposed Columbia may not be ready for the alcohol-fueled influx of alums and other visitors likely to have strong feelings of their own about what has transpired. Football crowds can get pretty feisty without any external stimuli – and Mizzou has an overload of external stimuli at present.

But Monday is another matter. Monday is back-to-school day, a new week, and a new chance to start repairing the damage done.

That's where a freshly empowered sports team could play a heroic role.

Mondays with Mizzou football. On a campus awash in ugliness, it could be the start of something beautiful.