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Missouri Football Team's Threat Leads 2 School Officials To Resign


It's been a dramatic couple of days at the University of Missouri. Yesterday, the school president resigned following widespread students' protests over his failure to deal with racial intimidation on campus. Student protests included a hunger strike. But much of the credit for bringing the situation to a head has gone to the school's football team, which threatened to walk out if student demands were not met. Joining us now from Columbia, Mo., is Howard Bryant of ESPN. He is also a regular sports commentator for NPR's Weekend Edition. Howard, good morning.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Hi, Linda. How are you? I can't believe I'm speaking with you during the week.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) Now, you've spent the past day and night at the University of Missouri. What's it like out there now?

BRYANT: Well, it's very quiet now. But what an extraordinary day it was yesterday in terms of the things that you wouldn't expect to happen. To see a system president and chancellor both resign, or essentially, over student protest is pretty remarkable. And I think the way that it took place was even more remarkable, having the power of the football team being part of it - and also an amazing coalition. It wasn't just the football team. The football team actually joined this coalition of African-American students and faculty and graduate students. And obviously, Jonathan Butler, the young man, the 25-year-old grad student who went on an eight-day hunger strike to force change. It's an amazing turn of events here.

WERTHEIMER: Well, there's obviously a lot of comment about how the football team was a game changer. But they command a lot of coverage. And I assume that had an effect. But besides publicity, they also have economic leverage. Is there any precedent for Division 1 team doing something like that? I mean, this is almost a labor action.

BRYANT: It really is. And in fact, I think the closest thing that you're going to get to a comp here would be the NBA last year, when the basketball players - when LeBron James and Chris Paul and the NBA players - were essentially going to boycott the playoffs unless Donald Sterling was removed as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. I don't think there is a comparable example in the college games. And I think that one of the things that's very, very clear is that - as I refer to them - is that they are children of Ferguson. They are children of Eric Garner. They are children of the Black Lives Matter movement. They are very different from Michael Jordan in the '80s and '90s, as the athletes that would not get involved and sort of stayed behind the glass of their luxury cars. These young men now take a responsibility. And they're using their influence in a way that we really haven't seen from athletes since the 1960s.

WERTHEIMER: But Howard, the NCAA is pretty sure to draw a line from football players using their influenced for these disinterested purposes to using their influence as a possible way to redress some of their grievances, like the fact that they raise millions for Mizzou and don't get any of it.

BRYANT: Absolutely. But this depends less on the NCAA and then more on the players. If the players wanted to push the envelope, I think that one thing that this day in Columbia showed was that they can shut the NCAA down if they want to. The players have far more power than I think they realize. And if they choose to use it, we'll have a brand-new day here.

WERTHEIMER: That ESPN's Howard Bryant in Columbia, Mo. He joins Scott Simon most weeks to talk sports on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. Howard, thanks.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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