In just a week’s time, the Missouri football team’s march from the columns in the middle of the Francis Quadrangle to the Boone County Courthouse has sparked a new movement in college athletics.
After kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, 62 student-athletes, with a number of staff members, registered to vote at the end of the team’s peaceful protest on June 3. This took place in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed in the custody of Minneapolis police when officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the back of his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. With protests and cries for justice happening in cities across the country, the team decided to register to vote to show how all who want to make an impact can make their voices heard.
“You could sense that it was a powerful deal,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters told media members over Zoom on Wednesday. “We just walked down right through downtown and cars stopped and people were honking in support, and it was a moving experience. It was an emotional experience.”
Since Missouri’s march, LSU and UCLA also decided to allow time for all of their players to register to vote. Georgia Tech announced it will refrain from holding mandatory activities for nine of its teams on Election Day so players can vote. Across the country, college athletic programs are following Missouri’s lead when it comes to making sure their players have a chance to spark change.
“It’s just kind of a problem in the year 2020 and modern society that our youth isn’t involved in the politics, our youth isn’t involved in elections, and we can honestly play a big role,” Martez Manuel said. “... I feel like it’s really important for the youth to get involved because we can all be keyboard warriors and tweet about stuff, but if we’re not actually doing anything like our only thing we can do as citizens to make the change, then what are we doing?”
Manuel, a rising sophomore safety, was the surprise leader of the peaceful protest. Being a player who mostly saw action on special teams, Manuel said he at first was timid about approaching the team to put together a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. He thought it might need to come from the upperclassmen for anything to materialize for the team as a whole.
After hearing about a protest that was to be held in Jefferson City, Manuel decided to go and invited the staff and his teammates to join. Some went along to the protest but others stayed back, potentially due to fears over what they’d seen on social media between protesters and law enforcement. Those that went felt the power the protest provided, though, and Manuel got to work planning something for the football program as a whole.
On Sunday before the team’s march, Manuel contacted Walters, who brought it up to the rest of the staff. Head coach Eli Drinkwitz “was more than supportive” of the idea, and by Tuesday, the plan was in place to not only march through downtown but also for anyone not registered to vote to do so that day. Though Manuel is credited with coming up with the idea for the protest, registering to vote was something Walters came up with on his own.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Walters coming up with this idea, a lot of us, including myself, probably would never even register to vote in the first place,” Manuel said.
“I just thought of the idea of getting registered to vote and actually following through with something tangible that you can do that’s not just a demonstration,” Walters added.
Now that the first step has been taken, though, the Tigers know the job is not done unless they actually go through with the voting process.
“What you say and what you do has to align, and that’s the definition of integrity,” Walters said. “If we are saying that there is an issue and there is a problem, obviously you need to point it out, you need to address it, you need to bring attention to it. You’ve also got to be part of the change.”