Taking the Russian doll formation, the Missouri students objected to the growing number of racist incidents on their campus, which meant that the football team took interest, which meant that coaches took interest, which meant that the athletic department took interest, which meant that people in state government took interest, and in the end, school president Tim Wolfe resigned Monday morning.
There are lots of lessons in this, starting with this one: whatever protests occurred, it has to be clear to anyone looking on that Wolfe had few friends in Columbia, either in politics or academia. Presidents don’t quit because the football team doesn’t want to practice.
But credit (if that’s the word you choose to use) where due, this started with students saying conditions at their campus were intolerable, and athletes, so often separated from the student body, were shown how to look outside their own small world and see their place in campus life. From there, everything else fell into place, which is why Wolfe is no longer in his.
Trying to determine Wolfe’s culpability in the atmosphere at Missouri is something best left to those close to the scene, but it seems obvious enough that, school president being largely a political office, he had lost on the politics. Too many aligned too quickly for his to have been a secure position. Students don’t normally win these things, after all – not even in the romanticized Sixties.
But football, so often eager to separate itself in all ways save economic ones from the rest of a university, stepped in to help give voice to the protesters and spine to the state house. Football players became part of the campus at Missouri, and that alone speaks volumes.
What happens next at Missouri is also best left to those who are there on the ground. This could be a uniting event, or a polarizing one. Racism didn’t come tumbling down from Wolfe’s office, but was apparently part and parcel of much of the Missouri experience, and enough people said it had to stop. The question of whether it actually will requires a lot more dialogue and time and energy than “Wolfe Must Go” chants.
But as an instrument of change, as a force in the greater campus other than three hours on Saturday give or take the odd tailgate, the Missouri football program made a stand to join rather than separate – to be students rather than unpaid workers. That must be heeded by other football teams and other coaching staffs and other athletic departments and other student bodies and other administrative offices. Change comes hard, and there are victims as well as victors, but at Missouri, for one day, the football team spoke up for something greater than itself, and took a wider world view than what to do about BYU on Saturday.
Now that’s what education is supposed to do. Make men and women learn how to think, and what to stand for, and what to stand against, and most importantly, how to be more than just a tooth in the gears.