Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fight, Tigers, fight for Ol' Mizzou ...

      Because I was in journalism, and because I knew a dozen journalists with ties to the University of Missouri and Columbia, Mo. -- most of them sports writers -- I had this thought:
      I wonder how they feel about the student protests and the events of the past week on the Missouri campus?
      So I asked several for their reactions, with this blog in mind. Most (but not all) have a connection to Shreveport, and some did not respond or chose not to make their feelings public. But read on, if you want to see how they feel.
      I have my opinions -- uninformed, of course -- but I will reserve them until the end. I will say now that some of this makes sense, some of it doesn't.
      But it makes more sense than the murder, in Columbia, 14 years ago this month of Kent Heitholt, a Missouri journalism graduate who had come back to town as sports editor of the newspaper there. I'm sure Heity -- everyone's friend -- would have had a good take on these developments.
       I learned a long time ago that Missouri journalism grads, including my friends in sports writing, came out of the one of the nation's best journalism schools, and they were all pretty darned good journalists.
       (I can hear one of them, let's call him "Tiger," coaching us in the words of the Missouri fight song: " ... Fight, Tigers, fight, for Ol' Mizzou ...")
When the University of Missouri football team said it would
not practice or play games, the student protests' against racism
gained momentum and publicity nationwide
(photo from
       Maybe only Northwestern and Syracuse could match Missouri's journalism reputation, although -- some prejudice here -- I know that LSU and Louisiana Tech have turned out some fine journalism majors.
       So I have lots of respect for the Missouri people. Didn't like all their work or agree with them sometimes, and wasn't fond of all of them, but I know they were well-schooled. And they had to be watching the Missouri news -- charges of racism and bias, student protests, a hunger strike, a football team boycott, the resignation of the chancellor and system president, and an assistant professor of mass media asking for "muscle" to prevent a student photographer and cameraman for reporting the news.
       Ah, the lessons of political correctness and free speech, and the continuing issue -- always, it seems -- of the racial divide in this country.
       Here are the reactions from a few of my friends:
       Joel Bierig (former major-league baseball writer, Chicago): "[wife] Barb and I remember Mizzou as a friendly, tranquil place where our daughter [Becky] received a great journalistic education and had a very pleasant college experience, just as I had in the 1970s.
       " ... It's distressing to see our school in this sort of headline. Can this possibly be the same place we enjoyed so much? Now we know how Penn State grads felt a few years back. Obviously, the Mizzou administration must take the blame.
      "Today's climate and circumstances arguably are more complex, but the people in charge must be prepared to meet the challenges and deal with the issues. If the situation mushroomed and became magnified because of the administration's inattention, so much the worse.
      "The Mizzou brand has taken a beating under [president] Tim Wolfe's watch. Simply put, he is the CEO who presided over a stock crash.
      "I read where Wolfe was quarterback of Columbia Rock Bridge High's football team when it won a state championship in 1975. I graduated from Mizzou in May of that year. Weird in that regard, and also in that a football team (Mizzou's) was what finally sacked Wolfe.

       "I can't testify that racism and anti-semitism didn't exist during my time at Mizzou, but if it did, I missed it,  or perhaps differences often were hashed out in simpler ways. One of our best friends was an African-American student from West Plains, Mo., who was one of my apartment housemates for two years."
       Jeff Rude (golf writer, television host, Orlando, Fla.): "Well, I’m struck how the Missouri campus protest story had a little bit of everything. Race. Money. Power. Hunger strike. Politics – left versus right (or wrong). Students (read: football players) in effect ousting a president. A coach having no choice to rightly back his players. A clueless assistant communications professor stomping on the First Amendment. The irony of protesters not seeing both sides of the First Amendment. Even Michael Sam weighing in, and then getting bashed by the political right.
       "And, finally, a slow-acting president of the university system who seemed defiant when he resigned and who called for the dialogue he didn’t quickly deliver. This being 2015, a simple “we will not tolerate racist acts” early on might have helped.
       "You could say that football coach Gary Pinkel was caught in between the president (a boss) and his players. But let’s get real: Had he not rightly supported his players, recruiting African-American players would have been challenging, to say the least.

        "It's also important to note that the assistant professor is not on the School of Journalism faculty. The journalism and communications departments are different, unlike the case at many schools.   
       "Missouri’s celebrated School of Journalism also had good moments. A professor spoke wisely during a CNN interview. And the evolved journalism dean sent alums [a] note Tuesday:
        [Key paragraph from that note, commenting on the president-chancellor resignations]: "It was a day that demonstrated the important role of journalism in a democratic society. It showed why we hold dear our First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion, and petitioning against the government for grievances."
      Ed Cassiere (from Shreveport, sports information director, Xavier University, New Orleans): "All I can offer are two sentences. First one is pretty much public domain. Second one belongs to Rodney King. It's 2015. Can we all get along?"
      Tom Marshall (from Shreveport, advertising director, New Jersey Monthly Magazine): " When I was at Mizzou in the mid-1970s, I never witnessed any overt acts of racism. My dorm hall was integrated (now that I think about it), but neither then nor now would I consider that to be unusual or noteworthy.
      "I also covered high school and college sports for The Columbia Daily Tribune during my years at Missouri but again, I don't recall any incidents of racism.
      "Reading the coverage of the last few days makes me sad for the turbulence on campus and sorry that students there have been subject to hurtful acts of discrimination. But in my memory my experience at Mizzou was happy, productive and strife-free."
      Dr. George Sylvie (from Shreveport, assistant professor of journalism, University of Texas-Austin): "This is the halo effect from Ferguson [Mo.]. Certainly we knew about racism then, but thanks to Watergate, I was too busy trying to survive Mizzou J School [masters degree] and land a job to really give it much thought.
      "Going to Missouri from Louisiana was liberating for a black kid then. I stayed away from the Ag School and the frats, so I never ran into trouble. You could date white girls and no one gave you a second look. So that's why I say Columbia now is living in Ferguson's shadow, reliving the 1960s."
       Mark Burgess (Knoxville, Tenn., area resident, former co-worker in sports at Knoxville News Sentinel, University of Tennessee journalism graduate who grew up in Columbia, Mo.): "Conflicting feelings. Proud of university students taking a stand and speaking out on a topic that's probably more widespread and common than most of us know. Not happy with how some of it was handled, including the bullying of journalism students there to cover the event.
      "Obviously some serious issues on that campus and felt fine with student athletes taking a stand. Would have opened up a lot of serious questions if it had gone on long enough to impact games, TV contracts etc. Glad it didn't go on long enough for that to happen.
      "I've heard some people argue this sets a dangerous precedent for future similar protests around the country. It's possible, but we'll have to wait and see if those battles take place and have the same impact. A little surprised the president buckled as quickly as he did. He was either very guilty of poor leadership or feeling some serious heat from some powerful, big-money insiders. Either way, it's a problem."
      As for me, I agree that I thought the system president gave in to the demands -- but maybe that was the right move. Might have been better if he had listened more carefully or more quickly, and at least tried to satisfy the protesting students.
       It also bothers me -- and I think it's a dangerous precedent -- that football team members were willing to sit out practices, and even games. Don't blame them for backing the protesters and making a strong statement, but perhaps sitting out a practice or two would have done it.
      So I agree with one friend who did not want to be quoted by name publicly about the football team's involvement: "... Team is going to resist playing a game when you are paid nicely [with scholarships] to play games? My response would have been, how much do you value your convictions, like enough to forfeit a week's worth of scholarship/food money?"
       And, he added, in light of Missouri's 4-5 record (1-5 in the SEC) and struggling offense (3, 6, 3 and 13 points in four consecutive SEC losses), that "the funniest thing I read was a comment in the [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch from a reader reacting to the story about Wolfe resigning, telling Pinkel, "I'm starving to death for a touchdown!"



  1. From Jimmy Russell: I read this with a lot of interest as I had seen the unfolding of events. I think we might be opening a can of worms at future campuses, [but] I hope not for all students' sake. I need to be more informed as to what was the problem; I know the students talked about racism. What specifically were the racial problems? Did the students who had these feelings convey to them to the administration. What was the administration’s response, if any. Maybe the president ignored them. There are too many ways to solve the problems before it came to this. Maybe the students were blown off, which might have caused the issues. There too many avenues to work TOGETHER.
    Should have the football team gone ahead and played without their teammates? Do not know. They are probably going to lose whether their teammates played or not. The players are getting something for playing -- an opportunity for a free education. Looks like stipends are on the way, too. Would the university have withheld stipends if the players chose not to play? Does their scholarship require to them to play, to go free and get paid?
    We might see such stipulations going forward. I do not know the answers to all this, but just seems like to me the problems could have been better addressed. This from an outsider who certainly is not aware of all facets of this.
    Finally, will this hurt Mizzou recruiting or its image? Probably no worse than Louisville’s right now with the current issues in recruiting and the prior issues with the football and basketball coaches. Their image right now ain’t the best either.

  2. From Jim Pruett: Well done. I didn't read anything in your blog that didn't make sense to me. The topic is really complicated. I like your friends.
    As you know, we grew up in a bubble in Shreveport. Racism was implicit in the fact that the black people in Shreveport were simply left out of everything we did. Everything. Looking at it from this side, it was just obviously so wrong. And I can't claim I was completely unaware of the inequity, either. We drove past Booker T. Washington High School all the time and I never thought, "Hey, why aren't we playing these guys?" But I noticed it. I guess I just figured they had their own world. Naive. Insensitive. Racist without the mean-spirited aspect. But then I went to [Louisiana] Tech and one night we saw Grambling play basketball. Whoa! They were real good ... as in 'wow.'
    Still, It was years later that I actually somewhat understood, intellectually, the impact of racism, inequality, lack of a fair-shake, generational poverty. The U.S. did not invent racism, but we now have a uniquely American version of it. Some people of color still have little chance. A subpar education and one is highly likely to be poor.
    In my opinion, our country is currently paying a heavy price for the way our forefathers and foremothers, especially in the South, dealt with the aftermath of Reconstruction. The Missouri situation is just the latest, highly public episode.

  3. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: Interesting comments by all. Personally, I think non-violent protests (aka MLK Jr.) are a strong way to get attention called to the powers-that-be. The only issue I have is that the African-American students separated themselves from everyone else following the celebration of Wolfe's resignation to (as one article stated) rejuvenate and reflect and plan for the future.
    Why the need to separate themselves from the other ethnic groups (Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, etc.) who supported them in their protests? That seems counter-productive to all being equal. It seems divisive.

  4. From Danny G Norris: Good read and great idea to present the views/opinions from those who "lived" it at the University of Missouri. Hate to see this happen to a great university, but it certainly brings to light the idea/thought that to communicate one can't do all the talking, one must not only hear, but listen to what is being said -- no matter where we sit on the organization chart. A deaf ear rarely accomplishes anything.

  5. One aspect that I found distasteful: The students' celebrating -- dancing in step, screaming -- after the president's resignation. Perhaps he didn't respond to them properly or pay enough attention, but a man leaving a position like that is no guarantee that there will be improvements made to satisfy all -- or enough -- of the demands. But to dance on his resignation, to twist a phrase, is too much. Showing respect works both ways.

    1. From Ross Montelbano: Another great point. Respect is not something that is taught today. My mom taught me and I taught my son to stand when adults walked in a room. Today it's all about them, what they want to eat, where they want to go on vacation, etc. Then when they turn out to be self-centered adults, we are shocked. Really?

    2. From Danny G Norris: Right. It goes from being what could have been a "win-win" situation if handled properly early on to a "lose-lose" probably because people did not LISTEN and have intelligent, meaningful conversations. I remember hearing [former Louisiana Tech] coach [Maxie] Lambright say more than once, "It's hard to learn when you do all the talking."

  6. From Joe Harris: Not sure about the Missouri situation. It appears to me that a university campus is not a place for this type of protest; all involved should be focused on education, rather than political correctness. Very disturbed about our country.

  7. Anonymous comment: I have now come to believe the whole thing was a sham, that the kid really wasn’t starving, that anyone who has been on campus for eight years couldn’t have felt so abused otherwise he would have left or that someone whose daddy has makes enough money for him to live extravagantly for the rest of his life would have killed himself over insensitivity. Bullcrap.
    Some better investigative reporting needed to or needs to take place. I mean the dude from the student senate then tweets out the KKK is on campus and then comes back a couple hours later saying, “My bad.” False alarm, seriously? The problem today is we are too accepting of information and don’t consider where it comes from or who it comes from. Evidence was crucial on the poopswastika and I have yet to see anyone produce a picture, other than the one that has been floating around the Internet for months. And could it possibly have been a townie yelling insensitive remarks to that kid? No pictures, no pictures of the car or plates. And with that we fire a school president and chancellor and were willing to forfeit a football game and now we are so sensitive we cancel a “whiteout” T-shirt for a football game. I am appalled. Does that then eliminate blackouts or goldouts?
    What are we doing here?