Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Lesson in Power Dynamics

What the students – Payton Head, Missouri Student Association President,
Graduate student, Jonathan Butler, the #ConcernedStudent1950 organization, their football team, and others – at the University of Missouri accomplished by forcing the UM System President Tim Wolfe to resign is game-changing. (Read about it by clicking here.)

I’ve often wondered how African Americans could play sports for many of these southern universities with such a rich and dark history of mistreatment of Blacks.  Basketball, and particularly, football, feed the coffers of these institutions with teams made up of 50, 60, or 70% African Americans, while the universities’ “Student” populations range in the mid-single digits. Missouri specifically sits at 8%.

One can only imagine the long road of protests, sit-ins, op-eds, fasting, prayers, etc., that would have been necessary to bring about this resignation – if, indeed, that would have ever been enough.However, when the football team engaged in the work of justice activism, well, “stuff“ happened fast.


Across the country, you’d better believe university boards, and athletic directors and coaches are ruminating over what happened in Missouri. Could it happen at their school? Or importantly, what should they be doing to reduce the possibility of a similar situation.

Some will take the high road. Perhaps reviewing diversity policies, documenting processes to effectively handle harassment, proscribing response times to concerns, and developing an office of the ombudsman to address discrimination claims, all in an effort to create a better campus environment.  

Unfortunately, some will take that low road. Roger Groves, in his article in Forbes Magazine (Read it here) suggests that one of their solutions might be to ask their coaches if they are “recruiting the ‘right kind of people.’”

Out of all of this, one thing is clear and evident. Disruption, particularly of finances, and also of reputation, morale, and perceptions, is a lever that can be used to create change. My prayer is for our students and student-athletes to embrace this lesson as we move this country, kicking and screaming, into a more humane and less racist society.

This tectonic shift in power dynamics, has given me an answer to my earlier ruminations: Our brothers who take the courts and fields each week to toil for these universities are critical partners for real change in these institutions that have for so long been steeped in racial trauma and white privilege.


Daryle Brown
Trinity UCC Justice Watch Team