It has been a fall of discontent for Michigan fans and that sentiment is most evident in the student body. A 1000-student strong demonstration on the president’s doorstep calling for the removal of athletic director Dave Brandon sent a loud and clear message. The students were upset, organized, and they were willing to do what was necessary to shine a light on the issues as they saw them. All of the national attention gave the appearance of their point getting across, but could they be sure? Could they be certain that their long list of grievances was actually being taken seriously? That was the concern held by many, especially second-year law student Edward Mears.
“I think over the past four years students have been paying close attention to (Michigan athletic director) Dave Brandon and his policies from the AD,” Mears said. “If you talk about student season ticket prices, which are well above those of other schools. The Super Bowl like atmosphere, the PR missteps, the delayed response in the wake of the concussion issue. It is clear that Mr. Brandon has been out of touch with what the student body desires from their athletic department, especially in regards to their banner sports via football. What really got me motivated to speak out though was the delayed response to the Shane Morris incident and his incredulous statements during his subsequent television interviews. He had ‘an outstanding relationship with the students, which is evident such as the turnouts of ‘Under the Lights’,’???! That kind of percolated into the rally that we saw last week. After speaking with some other students there and online I thought it might be a good idea to take this a bit further to keep the pressure on the athletic department and have our voices heard.”
Mears thought long and hard about how to exert that extra pressure and picked up on an idea to boycott the kickoff of tonight’s match-up with Penn State.
“What got me thinking about the boycott was a post on the forums of MGoBlog,” Mears explained. “Right after the television interviews, I forget who it was on the board, but they put up something up about what are some ideas that we may have to keep the pressure on Mr. Brandon? There were ideas of having another rally, sending a petition, but I felt like we had already done that we needed to step it up a bit. The idea of a boycott was floated around in that same thread over an entire game. I thought, ‘that’s going to look bad and certainly construed in that we are not supportive of the students.’ I thought about it a bit more and maybe the boycott of a kickoff as opposed to an entire game could send a message squarely at the AD, we’re dissatisfied with the direction of the program and I think by doing that we would still be showing up right after kickoff to support our team. I’m not sure if the messaging worked out quite as well as I would have liked, but I think that was the primary motivation around it.”
Support for that method of protest was certainly plentiful, but it soon became clear that there was considerable opposition also. Most students/ fans agreed that there was a definite need to demonstrate. They disagreed that the intent of their protest would be universally understood.
“What we’ve really been trying to do is walk that fine line between voicing our displeasure with the AD and supporting our fellow student athletes. I think one of our goals was to really get in front of the message behind this boycott and demonstrating and getting out there that this is not about the players, this is squarely about the AD, but it has been difficult. The response I have gotten online has been very mixed. I think a lot of people have spoken out against the boycott precisely because they think it is a slight against the players. I think after a bit more discussion with those people and educating them more about the purpose behind the boycott, it warmed them a bit to the idea.”
“I cannot speak for the entire student body here. I’m just one graduate student, so I’m a bit disconnected from the main undergraduate body… but I think we’re sick and tired of having our loyalty taken advantage of with obscene ticket prices an then they go behind our back and sell tickets for two dollars at the union. With that in mind, it is clear something more needed to be done. I’m not sure this is the best solution. It got a lot of traction on the forums at MGoBlog, so that’s why I thought it could be a good idea, but of course, I’m not tone deaf. I’m listening and receptive to all opinions out there. If that means a modification of our plans on Saturday that’s fine.”
“Of course, I want to be respectful of student athletes and recruits. That’s why I’m open to tailoring this however it fits to make sure that our message isn’t perceived that way.”
After thinking about it further, Mears decided to alter course.
"I've let up the gas on the boycott front," Mears told the Detroit News. "I intend and others intend to sit out kickoff. Even if the protest is a bust, it's clear people are paying attention to it now. That's more important than any visual we might have on Saturday. That's a good compromise."
It’s important to note that for Mears the decision to modify the protest was NOT a concession. For him it was indeed a compromise.
“I have some friends who were at (University of Michigan) President (Mark) Schlissel’s fireside chat (Wednesday night),” said Mears. “The message I got from them is that President Schlissel is very aware of what’s going on and feels that there needs to be a culture change at the AD. From what I was told, he was frank and candid. I think that is pretty much all we wanted. It was just someone in the administration to say, ‘hey, we hear you students. We know why you are upset and we’re going to do something about it.’ So I think that message from President Schlissel (Wednesday) really had me rethink and it almost felt like our goal has already been met. We have the administration’s attention. I’m going to talk with other people that have been central to organizing this. I don’t think I am going to force this issue this Saturday.
“I think we’ve gotten our message across, at least I hope (we have).”
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