Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackistone discusses the University of Missouri football team's protest and how the spotlight of sports can illuminate critical social issues.


This was the power of sports as agency for social change on full display.

On November 2nd, a black graduate student at the University of Missouri, Jonathan Butler, said he was going on a hunger strike. He wanted to protest an increasingly inclement racial atmosphere on campus that he and other black students felt was being ignored. He demanded the president, Thomas Wolfe, resign. But few of the rest of us paid attention until a group of black Missouri football players, five days later, announced they would boycott their upcoming game unless the administration acceded to Butler's demand.

The social media analytics tool, Topsy, recorded 36 hits about Butler's protest when Butler announced his hunger strike. After the football players backed Butler, Topsy recorded over 55,000 hits. What was a regional story in Columbia, Missouri, for weeks, became international news overnight. Two days after the football players stood up, the president resigned. It was a perverted development. For it suggested the university, us in the media, and the public, valued a college football game over the endangerment of a black life.

And people ask what Black Lives Matter is all about.

It all underscored, too, how the spotlight of sports can illuminate critical issues like nothing else. Why sports? Because sports are accessible to all of us and receive regular and worldwide media coverage.

Because that coverage can attract influential allies for a cause. Because that coverage of reduces the ability of regimes -- whether Missouri, the Los Angeles Clippers, or the NCAA -- to repress. Because. Sports. Matter.


College Sports: "Missouri Football Shows How Sports Affect Social Change"