K-State athletes demand changes

Kellis Robinett
The Wichita Eagle (TNS)
Kansas State Wildcats defensive back Jonathan Alexander (17) was one of several Wildcat athletes demanding that the university make changes that address racism on campus.

MANHATTAN — A select group of student-athletes at Kansas State have begun circulating a letter on social media that states they will not play in games or participate in any donor or recruiting events for the Wildcats until the university makes changes that address racism on its campus.

The letter demands that K-State administrators create a policy that will expel any student who openly displays racism on any platform, such as social media or at school or athletic events.

Another demand: The university must deliver "strong consequences" to K-State student Jaden McNeil, who founded the white-supremacist group America First Students in Manhattan and posted an insensitive tweet about George Floyd that sparked a mushroom cloud of outrage from the Wildcats' Black student-athletes on Friday.

"If these actions are not taken," the letter read, "it is a promise that we will not play."

A number of K-State athletes began sharing the letter on Friday afternoon, including women's basketball player Christianna Carr and football player Jonathan Alexander.

Some of the letters differed slightly in their verbiage, but their demands were all the same.

"As student athletes of color we stand in solidarity," Alexander's letter read. "If these things aren't addressed accordingly, we have decided that we will not participate in all athletic related events. As members of this community what brought me and fellow student-athletes to Kansas State University was the idea of family, and we have decided that it is time to start acting like one."

Those letters were in response to a tweet from McNeil that read: "Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!"

His tweet was met with anger from many with connections to K-State, including student-athletes who used their powerful platforms to condemn him.

Earlier in the day, many K-State football players united against the tweet on social media. And a few athletes vowed not to play until something was done to limit future racially-charged incidents on campus.

Freshman receiver Tee Denson wrote "I refuse to play for a program that tolerates ignorance such as this." K-State basketball players Antonio Gordon and DaJuan Gordon both said they would not suit up for the Wildcats until they saw change.

Carr, Alexander and other student-athletes followed with their letters. Both Kansas State student-athletes received support after sharing them.

Student-athletes at Texas issued a similar letter last week demanding changes on the Austin campus that address racial issues such as the the school's alma mater and university buildings being named after Confederate soldiers.

It seems as though change might already be afoot.

Kansas State president Richard Myers issued a statement on Friday that the university will be launching an immediate review of the school's options in response to McNeil's tweet, adding that "Black Lives Matter at Kansas State University and we will continue to fight for social justice."

"The insensitive comments posted by one K-State student hurts our entire community," Myers wrote in a statement. "These divisive statements do not represent the values of our university. We condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms."

K-State athletic director Gene Taylor, as well as basketball coach Bruce Weber and football coach Chris Klieman, also issued comments against the insensitive tweet.

"Recent tweets from a K-State student downplaying the Black Lives Matter effort and the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd are disgusting and totally inappropriate and not reflective of who we are as a university or our athletic department," Taylor wrote. "They are not reflective of our administration and goals. We are committed to listening and supporting our black athletes, black students and members of our Black community and taking positive steps in the matters of social injustice and racism."

One prominent white student-athlete also showed his support of the potential boycott.

Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson promised to help lead a movement of change on campus.

"I can't even put into words how I feel right now," Thompson wrote. "My heart hurts. The fact that the comment made is being referred to as a joke is disgusting. That's the problem, people think this is a joke. The tweet HURT my brothers and sisters of color and it's not acceptable. I stand with them."