Missouri bill would revoke scholarships if student-athletes strike

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A state legislator is proposing that student-athletes lose their scholarships if they go on strike, in response to a threat by Missouri Tigers football players to not play because of the administration's handling of racial discrimination complaints on campus.

The bill proposed by Republican Rep. Rick Brattin last week in the Missouri House of Representatives would strip scholarships from any athlete who "calls, incites, supports or participates in any strike." Colleges and universities would be required to fine coaching staff members who encourage or enable such student protests.

University of Missouri athletic department spokesman Ryan Bradley didn't respond Monday to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In addition to First Amendment objections, the bill could face challenges because the University of Missouri athletic department operates on its own revenue and not on state funds, according to the student-athlete handbook.

"The university should have stood against this anarchy that happened with this protest," Brattin told CBSSports.com.

Rep. Kurt Bahr, the co-sponsor of the bill, said his goal is to show that some state lawmakers don't approve of how University of Missouri administrators handled student unrest. Bahr said he hopes this bill fosters discussion between the legislature and university leadership.

The aim is to show "the response that they've had has not been as strong as the legislature would like," said Bahr, a St. Charles Republican, "and that we, the General Assembly, expect the leadership of this state institution to actually lead and not allow the students to call the shots."

Bahr also told the Columbia Missourian that he didn't think the football players' action was "an appropriate response."

"The issue really is, they can have the freedom of speech (when they) like or don't like something on campus," Bahr said, according to the newspaper. "But if they're going to receive state money, there are going to be ramifications."

Bahr told the Missourian that he had not read the student-athlete handbook.

The Columbia campus gained national attention in November after members of the football team backed calls by a student on a hunger strike for then-University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe to resign or be removed. At issue was Wolfe's administration's handling of racial discrimination complaints.

Graduate student Jonathan Butler refused to eat and football players threatened to not play until Wolfe stepped down, which he did Nov. 9. R. Bowen Loftin, former chancellor of the Columbia campus, also announced his resignation that day.

One of the leaders of the football players' stand, safety Ian Simon, said the bill wouldn't deter student-athletes from a strike, according to the Missourian.

"They want to call us student-athletes, but they keep us out of the student part of it," Simon told the newspaper. "I'm more than just a football player. ... As soon as we're done playing at the University of Missouri, the University of Missouri does not care about us anymore. We are not their responsibility. ... Our sport is just a small part of who we are."

Brattin's bill is one of a number proposed in response to the unrest at the university. Republican budget leaders have said state funding for the university will be under greater scrutiny in the legislative session that begins Jan. 6.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.