For an alumnus of the University of Missouri, the recent protests from the students and football players over the indifference of the president and administration touched a nerve. African-American students were enraged over what they saw as inaction by the president to address racial slurs, swastikas smeared on walls, and failure to get out of his car to address them directly. They didn’t feel safe on campus, and were fed up with what they saw as a systemic racism at the institution. They even pointed out that President Tim Wolfe had no background in academia, and apparently was appointed to his position because of his background in business. He finally got the memo. Contrite, and somewhat baffled, he resigned.
When a black student went on a hunger strike to protest, few noticed. It was only when the football team refused to practice and threatened to boycott the upcoming game with BYU did everyone, including the administration and board, as well as the national media, take notice. A young man willing to die for a cause is shrugged off. But a football team refusing to play — whoa! Now that’s serious. Not only did the university stand to lose a million dollars, but this action threatened the very foundation of our national pastime, football, a religion to many. Time will tell, but this protest could send shock waves through other campuses. It could threaten the very foundation of the football industrial complex.
Nearly 50 years ago as an undergraduate student at Mizzou, I experienced firsthand the unrest on campus. It mainly centered on protesting the war in Vietnam. However, there was also a rally, led by a philosophy professor, protesting the censorship of a student newspaper with a scathing headline and a cartoon depicting cops raping the Statue of Liberty. I remember a counter parade led by “Marching Kazoo” of a woman dressed up as a pregnant Statue of Liberty. I remember the sociology professor who urged us to take to the streets to protest the bombing of Cambodia and the killing of the students at Kent State by the National Guard. I vaguely remember black students coming to a rally wearing black turtlenecks, black berets and shades. They were vocal about their grievances, but I don’t remember any specifics about life on campus. I do remember some more generalized rage against the establishment, which many of us were raging against as well.
I also remember pickup trucks with gun racks and confederate flags, usually with an America Love it or Leave It sticker next to the George Wallace for President on the bumper. I also remember walking in Greek Town past open windows with loud country music blaring, and often with confederate flags flying from windows. Looking back on it, I can appreciate why African-American students would feel intimidated. As a white non-Greek myself, I was nervous.
But back to the important part — football. I spent many an autumn Saturday afternoon in the stadium at Columbia in the student section cheering on the Tigers. I believe my student season pass was $15. One year I recouped my entire investment by selling a punch to the Notre Dame game. The Tigers back then under Coach Dan Devine (who was later run out of Green Bay, but that is another story) was noted for its defense. I remember a game with no completed pass the first half. In the second half, when the quarterback finally connected on a screen, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Now I’m reflecting on why football is so fascinating and real life often is not. I believe football is a game of clear rules, fierce competition, and, in the end, a winner. Real life is often fraught with uncertainty, vagueness, dilemmas, inertia, and characters with good intentions who pave the road to hell. President Wolfe, probably a decent man, was caught in a Shakespearian drama, where he was blindsided by events beyond his control. Or, if you choose, a nefarious actor who intentionally ignored the legitimate cries of the people he was supposed to be serving. All I know is that he played the first half and never completed a pass. He is also a scapegoat for a system that lacked creativity, foresight and acumen. In other words, he should have seen it coming. Or, to paraphrase another bard, The Times They Have A’ Changed.
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since my days at good ole Mizzou. I have moved several times, and I’m still amazed at how the alumni association still tracks me down with its magazines and incessant appeals for money. I still watch Missouri football, now more often than not getting their butts kicked by the SEC rivals, the toughest conference in the country. But when I watch them this weekend playing BYU, it will mean something more than a game. It will be the added bonus of knowing that my team stood up and did the right thing.
Randall Bachman, of Afton, Minnesota, is an alumnus of the University of Missouri, Class of 1971.
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