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After A Week In Headlines, Mizzou Football Team Steps Back On The Field

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The University of Missouri Tigers meet the Brigham Young Cougars on the football field tonight. Now, that's a matchup that was certainly scheduled but was, for a moment, in doubt. That's because dozens of members of the Missouri football team said they would boycott the game in support of student protests against racist incidents at the school and what critics saw as the university's tepid response to them. The week began with MU's president and chancellor stepping down and ended with the school's head football coach announcing yesterday that he is resigning for health reasons. Frank Morris of member station KCUR in Kansas City has been following all this. He's covering the game tonight. He's going to bring us up to date on how things stand now. Hi, Frank, thanks for joining us.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Hi, Michel, glad to be here.

MARTIN: Frank, as we mentioned, it's been a difficult week at the University of Missouri in Columbia. But you were telling us this has actually been building for some time.

MORRIS: That's true. There are incidents in past years that the university didn't address very squarely. But just this semester, there's been kind of a drumbeat of racist name-calling and vandalism.

MARTIN: What really seemed to bring the story to national attention was the participation of the football team though, right?

MORRIS: That's true. The football team, 30 players got involved this time last week. And then when their coach, Gary Pinkel, came out and supported them on Twitter - within 24 hours of that, the president of the university was gone, and then the chancellor left a short time later. But it was the football player's participation that really brought in the national media on this story.

MARTIN: Why is that, though? What role does the football team play at the school?

MORRIS: You know, the football team controls a lot of money. And if they had gone through with the boycott of this coming game, they would've had to pay Brigham Young University a million dollars.

MARTIN: Well, what are some of the other expenses that they would've had to pay? They had a contract to use the NFL stadium, for example...

MORRIS: That's correct. The contract to use the NFL stadium here, ticket sales, TV revenue, I think, would've been involved and also merchandise sales.

MARTIN: What's been happening on campus since the president stepped down earlier this week? Could you bring us up to date on that?

MORRIS: Yeah. There were death threats - threats of a mass shooting targeting black students on Tuesday evening. And classes - a number of classes were cancelled. Some businesses shut down on Wednesday. Police arrested two men in - associated with those threats. Neither one were close to the university. It's not clear that either one of them had the means to carry out those kinds of threats.

MARTIN: And as we reported though, coach Gary Pinkel announced yesterday that he's resigning at the end...

MORRIS: Right.

MARTIN: ...Of the football season. Does his role in the recent events have anything to do with his resignation?

MORRIS: He says not. You know, he's being treated for lymphoma. As of last May, doctors are treating him for lymphoma. He got some tests last month - toward the end of last month, and he says those tests were the things that put it over in his mind that he should resign and live out the rest of his years paying attention to his family rather than the football team.

MARTIN: Frank, you were telling us that this game is actually not played on campus. This is actually about 120 miles away at the NFL stadium in Kansas City, which suggests it's probably actually more for the alumni. But are people still excited about it?

MORRIS: Oh, yeah. People are excited. I think there's an expectation that this team unified in the protests and having won this big battle with the university is going to be really jacked coming out. You know, they play at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, which is where the Kansas City Chiefs play. They've got special uniforms - all-white uniforms for this game. And they had a special T-shirt that they were promoting for the game. It's called, you know, white out. And that T-shirt has disappeared from the Internet. They're no longer selling that one.

MARTIN: All right. Well, that's KCUR's Frank Morris in Kansas City. Thanks, Frank.

MORRIS: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.