Notre Dame great Tim Brown applauds Missouri players

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In the past few days, football has become a powerful weapon for social change.

The significance of what has happened at the University of Missouri hasn’t been lost on Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown.

Amid several acts of racism around campus, African-American football players at Missouri refused to participate in any football activities until president Tim Wolfe, who they felt didn’t respond properly to the situation, was removed.

The protest was a success. Wolfe stepped down.

As the keynote speaker for Notre Dame's Gender Relations Center’s “Stand Against Hate Week” Tuesday night, the recent inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tried to frame the episode through the lens that he developed while a student in the late ‘80s.

It really was a different world back then.

“My father grew up in Louisiana at a time when it wasn’t good to be a young black man in Louisiana,” Brown said. “There are situations that he found himself in that he realized the thing to do was to shut up and keep moving.

“From that standpoint, those were things that I was taught growing up, that I learned how to deal with certain situations. I never found myself in a situation like (what was reportedly happening at Missouri).

“What those kids are going through, when you’re standing up for other people … you just want to see people being treated right, it becomes a movement. That’s what you see happening there.”

While watching the drama unfold from his home in Dallas, Brown saw what could have been a volatile situation work out.

“These kids had no choice,” said Brown, an ESPN football analyst as well as a Dallas television host. “If the black athletes didn’t do what they did, there was a good possibility they would have had a black-on-black thing going on there — the black nonathletes against the black athletes.

“I don’t think there was a threat of anything like that, but I could see how something like that could happen. There’s always (an initial) divide between the black students and the black athletes, until it’s mended together (over time).

“For those (football players) to stand up for the rest of the student body, it’s a beautiful thing. They handled it in a very peaceful way. Things worked out the way they were supposed to work out, I believe.

“(The sport of football) was used in a very proper way, the way it should be. It shows you the power of the sport on a college campus.

“Now, from what I’m hearing, there’s a little blow-back because of that. ‘Oh, you’re saying black football players run the school. That’s what you’re saying.’

“I don’t know if that situation’s over. I pray that it is. There could be a lot more coming from that situation.”

Earlier in the day, Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly was asked about the message of social consciousness he tries to send to his players.

“We encourage our players to be other-centered in the sense that we want to be active within our community,” Kelly said. “Our ‘Athletes Around the Bend’ program encourages our players to be part of our community and to be out and make a difference. So there’s a difference in terms of community service and social activism.

“Social activism is something that is more of a choice where we believe that building the young man, being other-centered is a component of that, and we encourage that as part of our program and building the young men in our program. They're two different things from our perspective.

“We have 105 players from different backgrounds all over the country. Different social economic backgrounds. We know that we're going to have different points of view, and we don't want them all to be the same. We have a great environment for our guys to be who they want to be on a day-to-day basis.”

Brown is convinced there had to be a better big-picture way to handle what occurred in Missouri.

“There’s gotta be some kind of way that guys can use biblical principles, and not political principles; it will usually work out a lot better,” Brown said. “You knew the situation was wrong, declare it wrong, and say you’re going to fix it, instead of trying to give people the ‘Heisman,’ you know, the ol’ stiff arm (striking the pose). If (the president) would have done that, I think he would still have had a job.”

Then, he had a prediction.

“You know, this is a copycat country,” Brown said. “I guarantee you, by the end of the year, you’ll see somebody else protesting something because they know that it works.”

The precedent has been set. Football’s a weapon that can carry a mighty punch.

Even as a tool in social activism.

Former Notre Dame football great Tim Brown speaks Tuesday, November 10, 2015, at DeBartolo Hall on the University of Notre Dame campus. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ