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Missouri football players announce boycott over school president

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri football players announced Saturday night on Twitter that they will not participate in team activities until the university president is removed from office.

The statement from the athletes of color was tweeted out Saturday by several members of the football team, including starting running back Russell Hansbrough.

President Tim Wolfe gave no indication he has any intention of stepping down, but agreed in a statement Sunday that "change is needed" and said the university is working to draw up a plan by April to promote diversity and tolerance.

For months, black student groups have complained of racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white, 35,000-student campus.

Many of the protests have been led by an organization called Concerned Student 1950, which gets its name from the year the university accepted its first black student.

Its members besieged Wolfe's car at homecoming last month, and they have been conducting a sit-in on a campus plaza since last Monday.

The organization has demanded among other things that Wolfe "acknowledge his white male privilege," that he be removed immediately, and that the school adopt a mandatory racial-awareness program and hire more black faculty and staff.

On Saturday night, black members of the football team joined the outcry.

Jonathan Butler, a black graduate student, is in the sixth day of a hunger strike to call attention to the issue.

The statement from the players included a photograph of 32 black men, including Butler. In the photo, two players have their arms linked through his.

Missouri football head coach Gary Pinkel tweeted a statement of support for his players. The Tigers' next game is Saturday against BYU at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, and canceling it could cost the school more than $1 million.

"The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe 'Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,'" the players said in a statement. "We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!"

The protests at the campus began after the student government president, who is black, said in September that someone in a passing pickup truck hurled a racial slur at him. Days before the homecoming parade, members of a black student organization said slurs were directed at them by an apparently drunk white student. Also, a swastika drawn in feces was found recently in a dormitory bathroom.

One of the sit-in participants, Abigail Hollis, a black undergraduate, said the campus is "unhealthy and unsafe for us."

"The way white students are treated is in stark contrast to the way black students and other marginalized students are treated, and it's time to stop that," Hollis said. "It's 2015."

She said Wolfe has shown "much more of a lack of concern and much more of a lack of understanding for us" than other administrators.

Two graduate student groups at the University of Missouri are calling for walkouts in solidarity with protesters who want the system president to resign.

The Steering Committee of the Forum on Graduate Rights and the Coalition of Graduate Workers called Sunday for the actions. The groups say walkouts by student workers on Monday and Tuesday will send a message of support for protesters seeking the removal of Wolfe.

On Sunday, Wolfe said most of the 1950 group's demands have already been incorporated into the university's draft plan for promoting tolerance.

"It is clear to all of us that change is needed," he said.

Already, at Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin's request, the university announced plans to offer diversity training to all new students starting in January, along with faculty and staff.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement Sunday the University of Missouri must address concerns over "racism and intolerance." The Democratic governor said the concerns must be dealt with so that the school is "a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion."

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

Butler also has expressed concern about other student issues, including the removal of graduate student health care subsidies and an end to university contracts with a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Student groups have been critical over how Wolfe has handled issues of race and discrimination, and blocked his car at homecoming in an attempt to speak with him.

In a Twitter statement, the Missouri athletic department said it was aware of the statement by "many of our student-athletes."

New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson says he's standing by the football players at his alma mater, the University of Missouri.

Speaking after the Jets' 28-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, Richardson said Wolfe "does need to go" over his handling of recent racial incidents on campus. Richardson added that "some stuff happened back then when I was there," but he declined to provide specifics.

The campus is about 120 miles west of Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where tensions erupted following the police shooting death of 18-year Michael Brown. Brown, who was black, was unarmed when he was shot by a white police officer during a confrontation in a street in August 2014. His death sparked ongoing protests and helped spawn the national "Black Lives Matter" movement rebuking police treatment of minorities.

The campus of 35,448 is mostly white. Approximately 17 percent of the student population identifies with a minority group, according to the university website.

Missouri last played Thursday night at home, losing to Mississippi State to fall to 4-5 on the season. The Tigers have three more games left, including next Saturday at home against BYU.

Wolfe, 56, is a former software executive and Missouri business school graduate and whose father taught at the university. He was hired as president in 2011, succeeding another former business executive who also lacked experience in academia.

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