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State Rep. Withdraws Bill To Revoke Mizzou Athletes' Scholarships

The bill would have canceled scholarships for athletes who boycott games.

A Missouri state representative has withdrawn a bill he co-sponsored to penalize student athletes who boycott games as a form of protest.

The proposal, House Bill No. 1743, would have revoked the scholarship of "any college athlete who calls, incites, supports, or participates in any strike or concerted refusal to play a scheduled game."

State Rep. Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville) and co-sponsor State Rep. Kurt Bahr (R-O’Fallon) introduced the legislation last Friday in response to last month's protests at the University of Missouri. Mizzou football players went on strike in November to bring attention to racism on campus. Their efforts helped force the resignation of the university's president, Tim Wolfe.

Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel supported his players' actions, which nearly resulted in a forfeit game against rival BYU that would have cost the University of Missouri upwards of $1 million.

Had Brattin's bill passed, Pinkel would have been penalized for his actions as well. The legislation also called for fines to be levied against "any member of a coaching staff who encourages or enables a college athlete" to boycott games.

Ian Simon, a former football player at the school and one of the leaders of the boycott, told the Missourian on Monday that the bill would have little sway in team decisions.

"They want to call us student-athletes, but they keep us out of the student part of it," Simon said. "I'm more than just a football player. ... As soon as we're done playing at the University of Missouri, the University of Missouri does not care about us anymore. ... Our sport is just a small part of who we are."

In an interview with Kansas City's 610 Sports Radio on Tuesday, Brattin, who is white, dismissed any idea the bill was racially motivated, calling the claims "complete garbage."

"We have a complete train wreck of a university due to their actions," he said of the players.

Brattin also cast doubt on the racial tension that inspired the school's protests to begin with, though he admitted he didn't actually speak with any black students during his investigation into the matter.

In a statement to The Huffington Post, Brattin said the bill "was filed to generate discussion on what I believe is an extremely important topic and one that deserves deliberate consideration."

"While I am withdrawing the legislation, I hope the conversation will continue so that we can take steps to ensure the University of Missouri is providing a stable, positive learning environment for our young people," the statement continued. "I sincerely believe students should be able to express their viewpoints, but I also believe our flagship state university has to keep and maintain the order that is expected from such an esteemed educational institution."

Co-sponsor Bahr told the St. Louis Dispatch that the bill's withdrawal caught him by surprise Wednesday. 

"Unfortunately, it’s going to be seen as a coup by those who opposed the bill,” he said.

While critics said otherwise, Bahr said the legislation wouldn't have violated the players' right to free speech under the First Amendment.

"The student has a right to protest or to make their voice heard,” Bahr told the Kanas City Star. “But if they have a contract to perform certain duties, and they violate that contract … then it’s not an issue of the First Amendment. It’s an issue of contract law. They failed to uphold that contract."

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