Gary Pinkel: 'We are united' after black players threaten boycott over racial incidents

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Missourifootball coach Gary Pinkel proclaimed Sunday that his team is "united" in the wake of racial incidents at the university and how officials have responded to them.

University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe, amid demands for his resignation, said changes will come to address racially charged incidents at the school as part of a system-wide diversity and inclusion strategy due to be announced in April.

"It is clear to all of us that change is needed, and we appreciate the thoughtfulness and passion which have gone into the sharing of concerns," Wolfe said in a statement Sunday. "Clearly, we are open to listening to all sides and are confident that we can come together to improve the student experience on our campuses. We want to find the best way to get everyone around the table and create the safe space for a meaningful conversation that promotes change."

On Saturday night, a group of black players on Mizzou's football team, via a Twitter post from the Legion of Black Collegians, said they would stop participating in all football activities until Wolfe stepped down. A photo in the post included Tigers starting running back Russell Hansbrough.

However, Pinkel tweeted that his team "stands as one" with a photo of all coaches and players standing together, arms locked in unity.

Jonathan Butler, a Missouri grad student, began a hunger strike against Wolfe on Monday, saying Wolfe has failed to respond to student concerns. A petition to remove Wolfe from office has more than 2,000 supporters.

Wolfe met with Butler and student groups Friday to discuss the university's handling of racial harassment cases.

Pinkel and athletic directorMack Rhoades said Sunday in a joint statement to ABC News that the team wouldn't practice Sunday and is unlikely to return to practice until Butler ends his hunger strike.

"Our focus right now is on the health of Jonathan Butler, the concerns of our student-athletes and working with our community to address this serious issue. After meeting with the team this morning, it is clear they do not plan to return to practice until Jonathan resumes eating. We are continuing to have department, campus and student meetings as we work through this issue and will provide further comment [Monday] afternoon."

On Saturday night, the black players did not say explicitly whether they would boycott the team's three remaining games this season. The Tigers (4-5) are scheduled to playBYUon Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri.Canceling the game could cost the school millions.

The players' statement, issued Saturday night, aligns them with campus groups, including one called Concerned Student 1950, that have been protesting Wolfe's handling of matters of race and discrimination on the overwhelmingly white, 35,000-student campus.

Wolfe said the majority of items Concerned Student 1950 listed in its demands will be included in the school's diversity and inclusion plan.

Former Missouri defensive endSheldon Richardson, now with the New York Jets, said Sunday that Wolfe should resign.

"I am dealing with my own issues at the moment, but I am proud of those guys for staying together, and as far as Tim [Wolfe], he do need to go," he said. "That's just my opinion on it. Some stuff happened back then when I was there but I don't need to go into detail about it."

Richardson said he supports the players' cause.

"I hope they do stick together, and when game time does come, if this decision hasn't been made, hopefully they stick true to their word," he said. "I know how persuasive Coach Pinkel can be. I don't know what his opinion is of the situation. But you know, that's it."

Racial tension has been brewing on Missouri's campus in Columbia since September, when Payton Head, the Missouri Students Association president and an African-American, said he was racially abused while walking. Students protested when it took nearly a week for the university chancellor to address the incident.

Then in October, a student yelled the N-word at members of the Legion of Black Collegians in a campus plaza while they were rehearsing for a play. Later that month, someone smeared feces in the shape of a swastika on a bathroom wall in a new residence hall.

The university downplayed the incident, and more criticism toward administrators ensued, with Wolfe enduring the most.

On Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said the university must address these concerns.

"Racism and intolerance have no place at the University of Missouri or anywhere in our state," Nixon said. "Our colleges and universities must be havens of trust and understanding. These concerns must be addressed to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion."

The Missouri athletic department issued a statement Saturday night saying it was aware of the declaration by the Legion of Black Collegians and "we all must come together with leaders from across our campus to tackle these challenging issues, and we support our student-athletes' right to do so."

ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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