The University of Missouri football team scored a smashing success this week that had nothing to do with athletic competition. Only two days after announcing that they would participate in no further football-related activities until the president of the UM system resigned or was terminated for his failure to take seriously the racist atmosphere on the Missouri campus, Mizzou’s black players secured a stunning victory. UM president Tim Wolfe announced his resignation at a meeting of Missouri’s Board of Governors Monday morning (Nov. 9, 2015). This success is worthy of celebration for at least three reasons. First, this is a sign that some athletes at the Big-Time Sport universities are ready to do what is necessary to integrate themselves into their campus communities, joining in the activities and sharing the concerns of their non-athlete classmates. Second, the victory contrasts sharply with a number of historical failures that occurred in earlier moments of racial tension and unrest in American history. When black athletes at UTEP threatened to boycott a track meet against BYU in 1968 because of the Mormon school’s notorious racial policies, UTEP summarily dismissed them from the university–among the victims was long jumper and future world record-holder Bob Beamon. The success of the protest at Missouri indicates that a change in societal attitudes has occurred, one that makes it safer to speak out against injustice and more likely that the speaking out will make a difference.
Finally, the willingness of athletes in a big-time sport to speak up on an issue of broad social importance–and to do so by threatening to withhold their labor from the entrepreneurs who control and employ them–brings them one step closer to speaking up en masse for their own interests. They are, in effect, underpaid and inadequately compensated employees. They are taken advantage of, exploited, and cheated out of the educations promised them in their scholarship agreements. They should no longer tolerate this state of affairs. The Missouri football team has just provided an extremely valuable lesson for college athletes everywhere: ATHLETES HAVE POWER. Once they begin to use the enormous leverage that the market has given them, the NCAA and its minions will not be able to withstand the pressure they exert. Rights, compensation, and long-term protections for athletes are there for the taking. Water is spilling over the dam. To get that dam to break, and to send the NCAA scurrying for life vests, athletes across the country now need to follow the example of the Missouri football team.