While checking Twitter yesterday as I often do during the afternoon, I noticed some reporters that I follow out of Columbia, Mo. (the home of my alma mater, the University of Missouri) tweeting about a proposed bill in the state legislature that would automatically revoke the scholarship of any athlete who refuses to play for reasons not related to health. It would also call for coaches who support such strikes to be fined by their institution.
Before we discuss the legislation, allow me to provide some background.
As you are no doubt aware if you’re a regular reader of Athletic Business, protests at the University of Missouri based on incidents of racism led the Mizzou football team to strike. The players, along with the support of their coaches, said that until certain conditions were met, they would not participate in football related activities.
The strike was extremely effective. After the team missed just one Sunday practice, the president of the university system announced his resignation. The team suited up and played the following Saturday.
The story gained national attention, and generated heated discussions from both sides. While some applauded the players for utilizing their collective voice for a cause they believed in, others claimed that a strike violated the promise they made to the university when they agreed to play football for a scholarship.
The story has a lot of shades of gray and nuance, and my even my personal stance as a black alumnus of the school has changed over time.
But this legislation is asinine.
The bill, brought by State Rep. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville, is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s an example of an overreaction to an extreme set of circumstances, and a complete waste of time.
Athletic scholarships at the University of Missouri are funded through private donations to the Tiger Scholarship Fund. That means that the private donors can decide to stop funding TSF at any time and for any reason, because it’s their money, and they can do with it what they wish.
Not only would this legislation block donors who may wish to support these athletes through any future strike, essentially stripping them of their right to ‘vote with their dollar,’ it assumes that the donors are too stupid to know what to do with their own money.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with the idea that athletes who refuse to play for non-health reasons should remain on scholarship. I’m just saying that donors who fund scholarships should be allowed to make the choice whether to pull them or not.
Joe Walljasper of the Columbia Daily Tribune tweeted it best:
MU athletic scholarships are funded with private donations to TSF. Whether the scholarships are honored isn't the business of politicians.— Joe Walljasper (@JoeWalljasper) December 14, 2015
Here’s hoping the Missouri legislature does the right thing and kicks this bill to the curb.