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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) - Black players on the University of Missouri football team say they will boycott practices, meetings and games until the university dismisses its president or he quits, contending he has not responded adequately to concerns about racism on campus.
The move comes as a hunger strike staged by a graduate student to protest racism enters a second week. A majority of the 35,000 students at the university in Columbia, about 125 miles (200 km) west of St. Louis, are white.
“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’" the university’s Legion of Black Collegians said in a statement on Twitter.
"We will no longer participate in any football-related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience,” it said. More than 30 players were in a photograph linked to the statement posted on Saturday night.
In a statement released on Sunday afternoon, Wolfe indicated no intention to resign but said solutions to the students' concerns were being discussed.
"It is clear to all of us that change is needed, and we appreciate the thoughtfulness and passion which have gone into the sharing of concerns," Wolfe said.
The university has been working on "a systemwide diversity and inclusion strategy" to be released in April 2016, Wolfe said.
Protests on campus have been led by a group called ConcernedStudent1950. It said black students had endured racial slurs and believed white favoritism existed in many aspects of campus life.
Racial tensions in Missouri flared last year when a white policeman in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson killed an unarmed black teenager and a grand jury brought no charges against him. The shooting helped kindle national soul-searching about the treatment of blacks by law enforcement.
In Columbia last month, activists blocked Wolfe’s car at a homecoming parade and said he then bumped one of the protesters with the vehicle.
In a statement on Friday, Wolfe apologized.
“My behavior seemed like I did not care,” Wolfe said. “That was not my intention. I was caught off-guard in that moment. Nonetheless, had I gotten out of the car to acknowledge the students and talk with them perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Wolfe acknowledged that racism existed on campus and vowed to address it. Wolfe said he met with Jonathan Butler, the student on the hunger strike. “His voice for social justice is important and powerful,” Wolfe said in the statement.
The Missouri football team, which has won four games and lost five this season, will play Brigham Young University next Saturday.
“We all must come together with leaders from across our campus to tackle these challenging issues, and we support our student-athletes’ right to do so,” the athletic department said in a statement on Saturday.
Reporting By Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo., Editing by Peter Cooney