COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Student protests over the way leaders of the University of Missouri have responded to racial incidents escalated dramatically over the weekend when 32 Black football players announced they will not participate in team activities until the president is removed.
Head coach Gary Pinkel expressed solidarity with his players on Twitter by posting a picture of the team and coaches locking arms. The tweet on Sunday read: “The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players.”
The Black players did not say explicitly whether they would boycott the team’s three remaining games this season. The Tigers’ next game is Saturday, against BYU in Kansas City. Canceling it could cost the school millions.
University officials did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment Sunday.
The players’ statement, issued Saturday night, aligns them with campus groups, including one called Concerned Student 1950, that have been protesting the way President Tim Wolfe has handled matters of race and discrimination on the overwhelmingly white, 35,000-student campus.
Student groups at the state’s flagship university have complained that the use of racial slurs is prevalent on campus. Also, a swastika drawn in feces was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.
In addition, Jonathan Butler, a Black graduate student, is nearly a week into a hunger strike to call attention to the issue. The university president met with Butler and student groups last week.
The statement from the football players included a photograph of 32 Black men, including Butler.
The message read: “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’ experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”
Missouri won the SEC East title in 2013 and 2014 but is unranked this year with a 4-5 record.
Some members of the 1950 group — which draws its name from the year the university accepted its first Black student — blocked Wolfe’s car during the Oct. 10 homecoming parade in an attempt to speak with him. Wolfe did not get out of his car.
On Friday, Wolfe said that he regretted his reaction and that his behavior “seemed like I did not care.”
“I was caught off guard in that moment,” Wolfe said. But he added: “I am asking us to move forward in addressing the racism that exists at our university — and it does exist. Together we must rise to the challenge of combating racism, injustice and intolerance.”
In a statement Sunday, Gov. Jay Nixon said, “Racism and intolerance have no place at the University of Missouri or anywhere in our state.”
“These concerns must be addressed to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion,” he said.
It’s the latest controversy at the university in recent months, following the suspension of graduate students’ health care subsidies and an end to university contracts with a Planned Parenthood clinic that performs abortions.
The campus in Columbia is about 120 miles west of Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where tensions erupted over the shooting death of unarmed Black 18-year-old Michael Brown last year by a white police officer.
The school’s undergraduate population is 79 percent White and 8 percent Black. The Census Bureau shows about 83 percent of Missouri’s population is White, and nearly 12 percent is Black.
Associated Press writer Ralph D. Russo in New York contributed to this report.