KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas State is launching a diversity and education fund amid several other initiatives to address racial injustice after football players threatened a boycott in response to an insensitive tweet by a student about the death of George Floyd.
The fund will allow boosters to funnel money directly to initiatives within the athletic department that “actively seek inclusive and diverse community through educational programming and support of all student-athletes, coaches and staff."
“We will not stand for social injustice,” Wildcats athletic director Gene Taylor said in a statement Wednesday. “Now is the time for us to build upon the diversity and inclusion program that we launched two years ago and make bigger strides in the area of racial injustice and racism.”
Last Thursday, one month after Floyd died when a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the Black handcuffed man’s neck for nearly eight minutes, Kansas State student Jaden McNeil tweeted: “Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!”
Several football players immediately threatened to boycott if the university declined to take action, and basketball players and other athletes soon joined the push. On Saturday, the football team issued a formal statement calling on university President Richard Myers and other administrative staff to make meaningful changes to the campus culture.
McNeil, whose account was briefly disabled by Twitter, describes himself as the founder of a group called America First Students that is a “mainstream, Christian, conservative organization that supports President Donald Trump.” Kansas State said the club is not currently registered on campus due to lack of membership.
“The university has committed to developing meaningful, measurable action plans with concrete steps,” Myers wrote in an open letter Wednesday. “These proposed steps take into account the reality that, as a governmental entity, we must operate within the law. There have been many calls for us to expel a student who posted racist messages on social media, and while these messages are disrespectful and abhorrent, we cannot violate the law.”
Among other initiatives, Kansas State promised that student-athletes, coaches and staff would undergo mandatory diversity and inclusion training that includes monthly town hall sessions; redouble efforts to recruit applicants from diverse backgrounds for staff and coaching positions; utilize home games to support the Black Lives Matter movement; highlight Black History Month; and provide transportation to student-athletes to voting locations on Election Day.
Football coach Chris Klieman, who is entering his second season, said he supported his players and that “I am excited to help every player unite for the solution now, so that we can come together stronger than ever. Black lives matter.”
Kansas State players aren’t currently participating in any practices or workouts because team activities were suspended earlier this month after a coronavirus outbreak within the team. Summer workouts are expected to resume July 13.
Their threatened boycott is the latest example of football players on major college campuses leading a concerted push toward inclusion and diversity. Missouri football players recently led a march through downtown Columbia that ended with dozens of them registering to vote, and athletes at dozens of campuses have used social media to speak out.
“We must keep working to raise awareness about the racial injustices of the past and those that are still present today,” said Wildcats running back Tyler Burns, who will chair a new social justice action committee made up of student-athletes.
“I see this as an opportunity to restore justice to our country from our hateful history, starting with our university,” Burns said. “Indifference about issues of social justice is not OK, and all people deserve love and respect no matter their color of skin, their gender, or choices of beliefs and religion.”