College football players don't have much leverage, but these student-athletes used theirs for good.
Over the weekend, the University of Missouri football team won a significant victory off the field.
What exactly did they do? They stood together with a grad student named Jonathan Butler, who went on a hunger strike to protest school leadership.
On Nov. 2, Butler sent a letter to school curators calling for the firing of school president Tim Wolfe. In the letter, Butler rattled off a list of injustices he believed weren't being taken seriously by school leadership. It reads in part:
"In the past 90 days alone we have seen the MSA President Payton Head being called the n-word on campus, graduate students being robbed of their health insurance, Planned Parenthood services being stripped from campuses, #ConcernedStudent1950 peaceful demonstrators being threatened with pepper spray, and a matter of days ago a vile and disgusting act of hatred where a MU student drew a swastika in the Gateway residential hall with their own feces."
While University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin acknowledged Butler's protest, no firm actions were laid out in response.
And this is where the football team comes in.
On Saturday evening, Mizzou football players went on strike, vowing to boycott football-related activities until Butler's conditions were met.
Members of the team posted a picture with Butler to the school's Legion of Black Collegians Twitter account, announcing their protest.
"The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We will no longer participate in any football-related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!"
This is the same team that stood by teammate Michael Sam after he came out as gay prior to the 2013 season — so taking a stand on social issues isn't entirely out of the ordinary.
And yesterday afternoon, Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel posted his own update, pledging support to the striking athletes.
So why does this matter? Well...
If the school forfeits this Saturday's game against Brigham Young University, it will lose $1 million in the process.
Last year, the Kansas City Star reported that the University of Missouri's football program accounted for a $14.5 million surplus. According to the Washington Post, forfeiting a single game would cost the school $1 million just for breach of contract between Mizzou and BYU.
With millions of dollars on the line, school officials no longer had the luxury of being able to kick this issue down the road. They needed to take concrete actions, and fast.
By coming together as a team, Mizzou's football squad was able to generate leverage for Butler's protest.
For the most part, college athletics aren't exactly known for being the most player-friendly venues. The risk of injury runs high, the odds of playing professionally remains low, and despite being a multibillion-dollar industry, none of that money makes its way to the players.
But this? This was different.
As individuals, these students didn't have the power to force the school's hand. If it were only a handful of players sitting out — and if the coaching staff didn't have their backs — it would have been as simple as playing someone off the bench in each of their places.
By joining together in solidarity with Butler and each other, they sent shock waves through the school.
Once faculty members, politicians, and students joined, Wolfe was left with little choice but to resign.
Ignoring the protest of a single student? That's easy, unfortunately. Ignoring the protest of students, teachers, athletes, coaches, and politicians? That's much, much harder to do. And ignoring the prospect of a major financial hit if action isn't taken? That's just about impossible.
This morning, Tim Wolfe announced his resignation as president of the University of Missouri. This morning, we were reminded of the power of protest and what actions can result.
Congratulations to the students, teachers, and athletes of the University of Missouri for believing in change.
Jonathan Butler and those who stood with him stand victorious today. Here's hoping today's announcement helps bring a close to an era marred by racism and a failure of leadership.
They successfully pushed Wolfe out of power, but that's not a permanent fix. It'll take the school's new leadership actively working to end the on-campus culture of racism that's existed for some time. It's good to know the students will be there, ready to apply pressure as needed.