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Mizzou Ends Turbulent Week With BYU Football Game

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The University of Missouri Tigers capped a tumultuous week last night, one that started with players threatening to strike and led to the university president and chancellor stepping down. Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports it was a football game MU needed to win in more ways than one.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Thousands of people decked out in black and gold parked early to tailgate before a game that, to Kim Mullen, looked very iffy this time last week.

KIM MULLEN: We figured we'd be just going out to eat (laughter) or something - or tailgating on our back porch (laughter). I'm pretending.

MORRIS: That's because many of MU's players vowed not to play, citing the handling of several racist incidents on campus. MU coach Gary Pinkel backed the players, putting millions of dollars at stake. Soon after, the university president stepped down. MU alum David Champlin says the players risked their careers.

DAVID CHAMPLIN: I'm proud of the team. The team did exactly what they - what they should have done. It was solitary of the students. It's the students' voice that was heard this entire week.

MORRIS: Some fans here say the whole crisis was fabricated. Tony Gomez, who has a daughter at MU, says regardless of the situation, football players should have stayed out of it.

TONY GOMEZ: A player is a player. And if you get a scholarship, then you're out there to play. And you've got to represent.

MORRIS: And that's ultimately what the Missouri Tigers did last night, taking on Brigham Young University - and not on either school's campus but at the NFL stadium in Kansas City. Under normal circumstances, you would expect the Brigham Young Cougars to beat the Missouri Tigers this year. But Maurice Pendleton, whose son Kevin is a guard for MU, says the players who banded together this week gained a better sense of their own value.

MAURICE PENDLETON: They see that - what they're worth really to the school - not just - not just the money they bring in, but the influence that they have over other students, over faculty, over the administration, that they really do have a voice if they stick together.

MORRIS: And the fact that MU's team took on the administration with support from its coach hasn't been lost on recruiting prospects like Story Jackson.

STORY JACKSON: If they wouldn't have done that, I might have shied away. But that really brought me to get closer to the team.

MORRIS: A team that snapped a four-game losing streak last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Missouri, 20. BYU, 16.

REBECCA EARLY: I've been a fan since '64. And this is a huge win for us.

MORRIS: Rebecca Early says the win is especially important because head coach Gary Pinkel, the most successful football coach MU has ever had, announced that he's fighting lymphoma and resigning at season's end.

EARLY: You know, there's been a lot that has gone on in the last week at MU. But, you know, in the grand scheme of things, we're a great university. And we'll survive it all.

GARY PINKEL: But it was - it was certainly a difficult week.

MORRIS: After the game, Coach Pinkel seemed fine with his decision to side with the players.

PINKEL: But it's also not difficult when you know and you feel like you're doing the right things, making the right decisions, doing the right things for your kids.

MORRIS: One of his players, Ian Simon, seems ready to extend his leadership beyond the football field.

IAN SIMON: There's still a lot of healing that needs to go on on campus and across the country, obviously. But I feel like when you - when people come together to achieve a common goal, great things can be done.

MORRIS: And if the trend holds, they can increasingly be done by college sports teams. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.