Tim Wolfe, College Athletics, and The Neo-Plantation Mentality

Earlier today (November 9, 2015), University of Missouri President, Timothy M. Wolfe, tendered his resignation following a meeting with the University Board of Curators. Tim Wolfe’s forced and welcomed resignation was largely due to professional negligence and mishandling of multiple incidents that highlighted a systemic and sordid history of documented racial inequality at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) flagship campus in Columbia, MO.

There were two powerful precursors – two extraordinary events that not only brought national attention to the unaddressed racial issues at Mizzou, but also created the shock waves that led to Wolfe’s ouster. The first is graduate student Jonathan Butler’s weeklong hunger strike. And the second is Mizzou’s football team’s (most notably, 30 black players) decision to stop all football related activities, including not participating in their upcoming game against BYU (Brigham Young University) Cougars, which would have resulted in Mizzou paying $1 million in liquidating damages (i.e., monetary compensation for a loss) to BYU.

Now what? Well, now the former plantation overseer will likely find himself another plantation to oversee, and the plantation workers will continue to work the plantation, ensuring that the University avoids financial losses while raking in record profits.

What is the basis of my use of the word ‘plantation’? you ask. I’m actually rephrasing an idea from a credible source. The source is former NCAA President Walter Byers, who, in his book Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes, said: “Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is… firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers [student athletes] performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”[1]

The idea that sports can be used as a platform to bring about lasting and meaningful social justice is possible, although highly improbable. We did witness a president at a major university taken down in less than 36 hours after the football team got involved. And lots of people believe that this event marks the dawn of a new era in collegiate athletics – an era of the empowered student athlete; a fight against systemic economic oppression and corruption; and the possible end of the college labor market cartel’s (i.e., NCAA) empire.

While it might appear as if major college and university presidents across the nation were put on notice by the events that transpired at Mizzou, this is hardly the case. If you think plantations (colleges and universities) and their “overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches)” around the country will simply surrender their financial position over the actions of a band of misfits without a protracted legal war, then you are either overly optimistic or entrenched in self-deception. The scale of social, political, and economic exploitation (neo-plantation mindset) of today’s college athletes by the National Collegiate Athletic Association is far-reaching – and goes back to the days of Jim Crow and the US government-sponsored chattel slavery during the 17th through 19th centuries.

Even so, the questions that can or should be asked are: Do college athletes wield the requisite social power (and support) to level the economic playing field? And is the Mizzou event the beginning of a tipping point in collegiate sports as it relates to toppling power structures thought to be too big to take on or too big to fail? Perhaps. But unless the white institutional culture and white supremacy are addressed, the pervasive neo-plantation mentality that exists in collegiate and professional sports and in society will continue on its destructive path.

Reference(s):

[1] Starkey, B.S. (2014). College sports aren’t like slavery. They’re like Jim Crow. New Republic.

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