Student’s racist tweet a teaching moment

We hope university leaders will use this as a way to teach about — and therefore strengthen — their commitment to the free exchange of ideas that represents the heart of any university. 



July 1, 2020 - 10:06 AM

Kansas State University Library

K-State’s football team is on strike, and the university administration is in an extremely difficult spot, all thanks to a manipulative and self-serving sophomore.

We at The Mercury commend those football players for their courage, while we strongly encourage university officials to stand by the principles that have guided the institution from the beginning. That’s the way through a tough moment.

The main principle is this: People have a fundamental right to say whatever they want to say, however stupid it might be. That’s the root of academic exchange, and that’s what a university is about. It also happens to be a bedrock principle of the country.

The university’s problem right now was created by a comment on Twitter by a sophomore named Jaden McNeil. He’s the guy behind a right-wing campus organization, and he tweeted last week an inflammatory comment: “Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!”

Mr. Floyd was, of course, the unarmed black man strangled to death by a white Minneapolis cop who kneeled on his neck for eight minutes, forty-six seconds.

Young Mr. McNeil made that obnoxious comment presumably to draw attention to himself and the beliefs he wants to promote, and it worked like a dream for him. Everybody else in this story is playing right into his hands, in that sense. He understands (or he has stumbled into) the way to manipulate social media, traditional media and the university’s rules.

The thing is, he didn’t commit a crime, and he didn’t violate any meaningful university rule. He said something obnoxious and dumb. But people absolutely have the right to do exactly that in America, or else freedom of speech means nothing. It’s exactly when speech really bothers you that it most needs protection.

This whole situation was amped up dramatically Saturday afternoon when the entire football team said it wouldn’t play unless its demands on this subject were met. Essentially, the football team is on strike over this. Earlier, a half-dozen athletes — including women’s basketball player Chrissy Carr and men’s player DaJuan Gordon — said the same thing.

We should remember that the demands of black student-athletes here are driven by legitimate emotions, created by the legacy of racism in the country.

We should listen to their concerns and support their right to speak out and protest. And salute these student-athletes for caring enough to take action. They are getting involved and trying to change the world for the better, and we can’t really ask any more of our young people.

IT’S UNCLEAR exactly what would meet the players’ requirements. Their written statement demands that the university “put a policy in place that allows a student to be dismissed for displaying openly racist, threatening or disrespectful actions toward a student or groups of students.”

We can probably assume that the group’s basic motivation is to enable the university to kick out a person who makes a statement like the one made by the provocative sophomore.

We just can’t support that. We understand the motivation. But advocates on one side of a debate need to always remember that the roles could be reversed. What if the rules allowed the university to kick out protesters?

We’re confident the university will find some way to impose some appropriate consequences on Mr. McNeil. What we hope is that university leaders will use this as a way to teach about — and therefore strengthen — their commitment to the free exchange of ideas that represents the heart of any university. The football players and other athletes can learn from this, and everybody can come out better for it.