Missouri black football players boycott team activities amid campus racial tensions

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - More than 30 black football players at the University of Missouri have said they will boycott team activities until the school's president is removed over his handling of racial tensions on campus.

The players said on Twitter on Saturday (Nov 7) night that they would not participate in practices or games unless president Tim Wolfe resigns or is sacked.

"The athletes of colour on the University of Missouri football team truly believe 'Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere'," the statement read, quoting slain black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

"We will no longer participate in any football related activities until president Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence towards marginalised students' experience. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!"

The statement was posted on Twitter by several members of the football team on Saturday night and retweeted by many more, including starting running back and team captain Russell Hansbrough, and starting defensive back Anthony Sherrils.

Mr Wolfe is a Missouri graduate who was named president in February 2012.

His response to a series of racist incidents on the campus in Columbia, Missouri, has been deemed inadequate by many students.

Racial slurs have been directed at black students. In October, a swastika was drawn with human faeces on a dormitory wall, according to media reports.

The activist group Concerned Student 1950 - which refers to the year black students were first admitted to the university - has been at the forefront of demands for change and charged that Mr Wolfe, in particular, has failed to acknowledge and address their concerns.

Last week, graduate student Jonathan Butler announced he was going on a hunger strike until Mr Wolfe was removed.

Mr Wolfe said he had met Mr Butler and was "very concerned" about his health.

"His voice for social justice is important and powerful. He is being heard and I am listening," Mr Wolfe said on Friday.

"Racism does exist at our university and it is unacceptable. It is a long-standing, systemic problem which daily affects our family of students, faculty and staff. I am sorry this is the case."

The university's athletics department did not discuss possible ramifications regarding scholarship violations or other discipline for voluntarily missing practice.

The Tigers have three games remaining this season, starting with next Saturday's scheduled game against Brigham Young University in Kansas City, Missouri.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon issued a statement on Sunday in response to the student protests.

"Our colleges and universities must be havens of trust and understanding. These concerns must be addressed to ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion."

Mr Wolfe said on Sunday that his administration was "meeting around the clock and has been doing a tremendous amount of reflection on how to address these complex matters".

"Clearly, we are open to listening to all sides, and are confident that we can come together to improve the student experience on our campuses," he said.

On Sunday, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel tweeted a picture of his team and staff with their arms linked and the comment: "The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We are behind our players."