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Missouri Football Players Demand University President's Ouster

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Football players at the University of Missouri have threatened to go on strike. At least 30 players with the support of their coach have made a demand. They want university president Tim Wolfe to resign for allegedly failing to confront racial tensions at the school. Reporter Frank Morris of our member station KCUR is covering this story in Columbia, Mo. Welcome back to the program.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the tensions exactly?

MORRIS: Well, there have been a number of racial incidents starting at the beginning of the semester where the president the Missouri Student's Association, Payton Head, was called the N-word a number of times by a guy in a pickup truck. Another incident where a black students group practicing a play was interrupted again with racial slurs. Then a group of students tried to get the university's attention. They even blocked the president of the university system during the homecoming parade and he wouldn't talk with him. And so then that led to calls for his resignation. It also initiated a hunger strike by one of the students that's been going on for a week now.

INSKEEP: Wow, I'm just thinking about that incident you described where the university president, Tim Wolfe, is in a car and people surrounded his car and demanded that he get out and talk and he didn't do that.

MORRIS: That's correct. Members of this group surrounded the car. They were around the car for 15 minutes.

INSKEEP: He didn't say a word that was heard during that confrontation, but has President Tim Wolfe responded to these racial incidents in some way?

MORRIS: Yes, he has. He apologized for not engaging the students during the homecoming parade. And then he issued a letter more recently calling for a system-wide diversity strategy that would be implemented sometime next spring.

INSKEEP: So he's made a statement but still there's this demand that he resign or these players go on strike. What does a college football strike look like?

MORRIS: The strike would be bad because there's a big game with Brigham Young University scheduled for Saturday in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium, with tickets going for up to 225 bucks a piece. And then if they fail to meet that game, they have to pay Brigham Young a million dollars, plus all the money that they are losing on ticket sales and TV revenue and so forth.

INSKEEP: Well, this is actually very impressive timing from the point of view of a striker because they're essentially saying to the university, right, you're going to lose millions of dollars unless you do what we demand.

MORRIS: That's correct. And so today, the university - the board of curators for the Missouri system is meeting. They're meeting this morning at 10 central.

INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask, Frank Morris, the incidents, the racial incidents, that started this sound horrible, horrifying use of language, but not necessarily in every case even involving someone who is with the university. What is it that the students believe the university president should have been able to do about this?

MORRIS: Not ignore them. I mean, the university - Tim Wolfe seemed very flat-footed on this. Initially, the chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, was a target of these protests as well. But Loftin has met with the protesters. He's brought food to the kids camping out in tents on campus as part of this protest and he's called for mandatory diversity training for staff and students where as Tim Wolfe was slow to start reacting to these students and had the incident with the - in the homecoming parade. So I think that's the difference. He seemed tone deaf on this.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

MORRIS: OK, thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Frank Morris of KCUR. He's reporting today from Columbia, Mo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.