Missouri has been dealing with some important but also difficult issues. We’re grateful that they have been able to reach the beginning of a resolution. We look forward to preparing for the game at Arrowhead Stadium. – Bronco Mendenhall
Through the centuries, sports have been used as a political hammer and Missouri and BYU found themselves on the precipice of a similar situation when they woke up Monday morning.
Thank goodness, a resolution surfaced. It cost the University of Missouri president and chancellor their jobs.
Bronco Mendenhall brought just the right approach to heightened issues on Missouri's campus when he spoke to the media Monday. The Cougars-Tigers game was in jeopardy over the weekend.
Mendenhall did not address the grievances that have turned the Columbia campus into a bed of unrest, protests, a hunger strike and demands over racial issues. He simply voiced support for any resolution that may lead to normalcy, especially with the Tiger football program.
“I think that Missouri has been dealing with some important but also difficult issues,” said Mendenhall. “We're grateful that they have been able to reach the beginning of a resolution. We look forward to preparing for the game at Arrowhead Stadium. It's a unique opportunity for our football team to play against a great program in a storied venue.”
Mendenhall thought hard enough through the weekend to actually prepare a written statement for Monday. Addressing specifics would be troublesome. Coming off as unsympathetic would be calloused. He needed delicacy, and he delivered.
“As of right now, the game will be played,” he said. “That doesn't mean the other issues that they're dealing with go away instantly. My hope is that they can find a resolution that can be effective for all parties.”
Only hours before Mendenhall addressed the media in his regular Monday press conference, a threatened boycott of the BYU game by Missouri’s players still hovered in the air. The players voiced solidarity for students demanding president Tim Wolfe resign amid criticism of how he handled racial issues. Wolfe did resign Monday and Missouri officials told BYU the game was on after the Cougars conducted early morning meetings Monday.
Mounting discord, protests and demands on the Missouri campus and subsequent use of the football program and a threatened boycott fall right in line with a popular political ploy to use sports to force change.
We’ve seen this with the Olympic games since they started. According to Marlene Goldsmith, in her piece “Sporting Boycotts as a Political Tool,” the first recorded sports boycott was in 420 B.C. when Sparta “was barred” from attending the games at Olympia after “failing to pay a tithe” for breaking the Olympic truce.
In all 17 Olympic games between 1920 and 1992 there have been boycotts and exclusion of athletes. Who can forget Olympic boycotts of 1980 and 1984? The 1980 boycott was led by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and took 60 nations with him in protest over Russia occupying Afghanistan. Now, U.S. troops are in Afghanistan.
BYU encountered boycotts from San Jose State and Stanford University as well as protests at the University of Wyoming and Colorado State in the late 60s over racial issues.
What made this week’s threatened boycott by Missouri’s football team so unique is how head coach Gary Pinkel went against his president and backed his players — that if Wolfe didn’t resign, there would be no football game. Over the weekend, Pinkel said if they boycotted the game, he was behind them. “We are united,” he said, “We are behind our players.”
I asked Mendenhall, if he was Pinkel, how would he have handled athletes threatening a game boycott.
“I have no idea how to even begin to answer that. There're way too many things that I don't know to even comment, other than I know him and I respect him and I believe he's doing his best. The success he has at Missouri doesn't come easy,” said the BYU coach.
“I think he's doing a really nice job with the team he currently has and making the best out of a unique situation, including their quarterback situation and a really tough defense. All their games are tight.”
The bottom line is BYU will go to Kansas City and play Missouri as scheduled. Drama aside, the game is on.
But it gives you pause. Protesters who use sports as a hammer for a cause, no matter the depth or breadth of an issue, seem to get results.
Is that a healthy thing? To some, yes, absolutely. The cause is that important.
But to others, isn’t it in some ways like taking hostages? Nobility aside?
Pinkel took a bold stand (some say it was the high road), one that in the end he didn’t have to play out. On the other hand, Mendenhall found himself in an awkward position, preparing for a game that might not happen, for a cause he admits he is not fully educated enough to comment on.
Once upon a time, it was all about X’s and O’s.
Welcome to America 2015.