In light of Wolfe’s resignation, Missouri football team ‘closer and tighter’

Gary Pinkel: “My support for my players had nothing to do with anybody losing their job and, with something like this, football became secondary.”
Missouri Tigers football players gathered to release a statement on Tim Wolfe's resignation and the conclusion of their boycott Nov. 9, 2015, at the Mel Carnahan Quad.

Monday evening, members of the Missouri football team said they had wanted to use their platform as high-profile athletes to make a difference.

It worked.

Tim Wolfe, the UM System President, announced his resignation at 10:15 a.m. Monday. A number of controversial events on campus brought pressure on Wolfe, who was criticized for his inadequate response to racial issues at MU.

“It started with a few individuals on our team and look what it’s become,” sophomore defensive end Charles Harris said. “Look where we are right now. This is nationally known, and it started with just a few.”

Wolfe, who had served as system president since 2012, failed to find a different solution to the demands from Jonathan Butler and Concerned Student 1950, who demanded he step down.

Graduate student Butler, 25, announced a hunger strike via Facebook on Nov. 2, stating he would not eat until Wolfe either resigned or was removed from office. That night, tents appeared on Carnahan Quad with the hashtag #MizzouHungerStrike displayed on signs outside the camp.

Tensions rose on campus all week as Butler’s hunger strike continued, but it wasn’t until the Missouri football team came out in full support that the headlines reached front pages of national media outlets.

The team’s involvement began when sophomore wide receiver J’Mon Moore met with Butler Wednesday morning. The next day, he spoke to safety Anthony Sherrils, his roommate, about the situation. According to Moore, the two brought the idea of getting the football team involved to Harris and senior safety Ian Simon.

By Saturday, the entire team had been notified, and a photo was tweeted out by Sherrils of 32 black football players, arm-in-arm, with Butler in the center.

Following a lengthy meeting in the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex Sunday morning, coach Gary Pinkel sent out a tweet emphasizing unity within his program.

Following a statement on Sunday, Pinkel and athletic director Mack Rhoades took the podium Monday to further expand on the events.

“I got involved because I support my players and a young man’s life was on the line and basically that’s what it came down to,” Pinkel said. “My support for my players had nothing to do with anybody losing their job and with something like this, football became secondary.”

Although players chose to abstain from Monday’s weekly media availability, a group of them, including Sherrils, Moore, Harris and Simon, gathered for a meeting at the MU Student Center. Following their conference, the athletes, followed by members of the media and accompanied by supporters, walked over to Carnahan Quad, where the Concerned Student 1950 campout was set up.

A number of football team members met in private within the sea of tents, after which they approached the media with a statement.

“We love the game,” Simon said. “But at the end of the day, it is just that: a game. Through this experience, we have really been able to bridge the gap between student and athlete in the phrase ‘student-athlete.’ By connecting with the community and realizing the bigger picture, we will continue to build with the community and support positive change on Mizzou’s campus.”

Moore said he has been in contact with Butler throughout the day, noting that he had resumed eating, though slowly.

While the football players spoke to the media, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced his resignation.

The four student-athletes who had been key in spearheading the boycott expressed their pride for the Tigers’ unity.

“This can do nothing but just make a team closer and tighter,” Moore said. “Like Coach Pinkel always says, ‘Circle the wagons.’ This can do nothing but bring us together and make us stronger.”

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