Missouri Rep. Rick Brattin (R) pulled back his legislative attempt to penalize college football players and coaches who refuse to take the field in protest over social issues, but that doesn’t mean the University of Missouri won’t have to pay a price for the threat of a Mizzou football team boycott.
From the left side of the Missouri Legislature, Democratic Rep. Brandon Ellington said Brattin’s legislation that would have stripped scholarships away from players who boycott scheduled games was motivated by nothing less than an effort “to further solidify and legalize institutional racism.”
Ellington said Brattin was obviously targeting black athletes for exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and “reducing them to the status of subjugated livestock.”
The Mizzou football team and its coaches supported a University of Missouri graduate student protesting racism with a hunger strike when they threatened not to take the field for a scheduled game unless Missouri University President Tim Wolfe resigned.
Three days later Wolfe was gone, but not before student campus protests that included a professor shouting “we need some muscle over here” as she urged students to push reporters out of the area.
Less than a week afterward, Brattin — who has also championed making abortions without the consent of the baby’s father illegal, and preventing people on welfare from using food stamps to buy things like cookies, chips, and energy drinks — took his finger off the legislative trigger.
But Brattin said that does not mean the University of Missouri and its football team didn’t do wrong by the state and its taxpayers.
Although Brattin said he believed in free speech, he argued the University of Missouri failed in its responsibility to maintain order on its campus.
Ellington is not ready to let Brattin off any easier than the Republican is inclined to forgive and forget what the University of Missouri has done.
Ellington said the very idea of taking scholarships away from students who want to speak their minds was unconstitutional.
“Seeking to punish those who peacefully take a stand against racial injustice violates not only the constitutional right to free speech but the values we hold as Missourians,” he said.
However, arguing that Brattin is against free speech doesn’t fly as far as Ellington would like. It is true that Brattin has supported restrictions on abortions and the way food-stamp recipients spend taxpayer money for groceries.
But Brattin also put his name behind the Campus Free Expression Act, which was a response to university rules that forced students to hold protests in so-called “Free Speech Zones” and prevented them from holding demonstrations on any other part of a university’s campus.
“Free speech is not a right or left issue,” Brattin said when he proposed the legislation. “It’s an individual liberty and freedom we all hold dear to our heart. It’s sad that it comes to this point that we have to pass legislation to uphold these First Amendment rights.”
Brattin may have taken back legislation to penalize boycotting college scholarship athletes. But he isn’t the only Republican in the Missouri Legislature who was offended by the Mizzou football team’s protest over allegations of racism on the University of Missouri campus.
Rep. Dean Dohrman (R) has proposed legislation that would force public college and university students in Missouri to take a class on the freedom of speech, motivated in part by the Mizzou professor who urged students to force reporters away from their demonstration.
However, much more serious repercussions could be coming for Mizzou when the Missouri Legislature reconvenes Jan. 26.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard told the Associated Press the University of Missouri was going to have to pay a price for the boycott and its response that Rep. Dorhman said only served to “coddle” the students.
“The perception is that there’s a lot of things that went wrong,” Richard said. He predicted state funding for the University of Missouri was “going to take a haircut” in 2016.
Football players who took part in the protests against what they see as racism on their campus have expressed outrage over the Republican legislative reaction.
An unnamed Mizzou football player texted a writer at The Nation to complain: “We joke about the NCAA plantation politics but this wild.”
Rep. Kurt Bahr (R) co-sponsored Brattin’s proposal to cut scholarships for boycotting student athletes. Bahr told the Missourian the football team should consider this a lesson learned.
“They can have the freedom of speech (when they) like or don’t like something on campus,” Bahr said. “But if they’re going to receive state money, there are going to be ramifications.”