Social science can help us make sense of activism and the dynamics behind it and within it as protests break out at schools across the country. One article by Dave Zirin in The Nation borrows concepts from sport sociology to discuss Mizzou’s football player protests in particular.
As described in the article, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned after weeks of racial tension on campus, including a hunger strike and protest, was met with institutional denial of lived realities. The pivotal moment came when the school’s football team refused to practice until Wolfe was gone. It’s estimated that their refusal to play could have cost the school up to a million dollars. Zirin highlights how often student athletes are characterized as powerless or exploited, and so their capability for activism can be overlooked. At Missouri, however, the players showed their power to affect change as agents rather than mere actors for change.
Zirin’s article draws on research from UC-Berkeley emeritus professor Harry Edwards, a pivotal name in sport sociology, on the racial dynamics of college football, in which teams are often much more black than their fan bases. As #BlackLivesMatter and similar initiatives continue, Zirin believes we can expect more activism in such sites, where institutional racism is stark.