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College Athletes are flexing their power

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Kansas State athletes and Kylin Hill have shown us just a glimmer of the real power athletes wield.

NCAA Football: Abilene Christian at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

June 22nd, Mississippi State Running Back Kylin Hill tweeted out a response to Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves who was hemming and hawing about a proposed change to the state flag.

Three days later a consortium of players and coaches from both Ole Miss and MSU were in the state capitol to lobby legislators on a change to the flag, and another two days later a bill passed the Mississippi House, and a final vote is expected today.

In less than a week, a star running back affected deep change in the state he was from, in a state with a pretty deep and troubled history with race relations. The state where Emmitt Till was murdered, and where an all white jury refused to convict the white men charged. The state where Medgar Evers murderer avoided prison for 30 years before being convicted in 1994. The struggle for civil rights in the state, like much of the south, has been long and bloody.

For so many men in powerful legislative positions to bend at the will of a college athlete shows us something we’ve known but largely ignored. The deep power of the athlete, largely tied to the financial interests of major college sports, hasn’t been flexed in full. There have been overtures, and Missouri’s football team in 2015 flexed more than anyone.

That team was the opening salvo of sorts... refusing to play in a game, the money generator, sent administrators scrambling and caused resignations throughout the school. Since that time players and programs have largely backed off. But with the Name, Image, and Likeness laws being passed throughout the country, and the combination of the coronavirus suspending most of the campus activities with the revival of the Black Live Matter protests, it was the perfect time to test the boundaries of that power.

Hill is a very good player, and the Bulldogs’ leading rusher a season ago. But the Bulldogs were only a six win team a year ago, were mediocre and fired their coach and hired a new one. And still, with one tweet, Hill was able to bend the rest of the state towards justice.

Meanwhile, Christianna Carr is becoming a star

For a full explanation of just what kind of (pardon my language) shit-bag Jaden McNeil is, here’s a good recap. But the basics of it is that he’s an ardent white supremacist who thought it would be a good time to tweet out jokes about George Floyd’s death.

Since Christianna Carr’s statement, many many more Kansas State athletes, including the entire football team, have threatened to boycott any team activities until changes are made. Here’s the tweet from their quarterback, a name we’re fairly familiar with:

I might break character here a bit, but before I do I want to reiterate what a terrible person McNeil is. He openly aligns himself with the worst possible human beings in whatever version of politics you want consider them. I don’t think white supremacy or racism should be considered remotely political, but they’re aligning themselves with the current president so in some ways it is political. It’s ridiculous.

But Kansas State is a public university. If this where a private school, they’d have far more leverage, but that’s the funny thing about the first amendment... it’s pretty absolute. Free speech isn’t speech without consequence, but there isn’t and cannot be retribution from our government.

I respect the athletes’ right to oppose McNeil and everything awful thing he stands for. The blowback from people against the vocalization from the athletes has been horrific at times, including a direct message sent to Carr with her photo imposed on a photo of somebody being hanged. But I do think, in very large part, that there’s an awakening happening with this country, and it’s happening on a lot of fronts.

Without sports, we’ve been asked to stand up and face a lot of what we’ve been able to overlook for years. There have been moments in time over the years where we’ve been asked to be more aware of what’s going on, but it took a national pandemic closing down the entire country for us to come face to face with a lot of hard truths.

And aside from the really important things like social equality, I think the biggest thing coming out of the last few months has been how powerful the athletic lobby is be when it puts its power to a cause.

Also, Coach Drink says wear a mask, so wear a mask. We all want football back.

Don’t pay attention to the anti-mask people in the comments getting dunked on, just be considerate. If you’re going out in public, put a mask on.