ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** The proud legacy that Shane Ray left at the University of Missouri—one of excellence, given his single-season school record of 14.5 sacks in 2014—equals the impact that the school left upon him.
Ray watched from afar as many of his previous teammates bonded together to support a fight against racial inequality and injustice on campus led by Concerned Student 1950, a group of protestors named for the year African-American students were first admitted to the university. The group of protestors, unsatisfied with little action from university leadership in response to their concerns, issued a list of demands, including plans to "promote a safer, more inclusive campus," as well as the removal of Tim Wolfe as the University of Missouri system's president.
The Broncos returned to a snowy UCHealth Training Center Wednesday morning and opened Chiefs prep inside the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse.
About two weeks later on Nov. 7, the movement gained a powerful boost as athletes of color on the Tigers' football team announced they would not participate in any team activities until Wolfe resigned or was removed from his position "due to his negligence toward marginalized students' experiences," safety Anthony Sherrils wrote in a post on Twitter announcing the addition of their voices to the movement.
One day later, the rest of the football team, including head coach Gary Pinkel and the coaching staff, announced they would support the players who previously joined the protests.
One day after that, Wolfe resigned.
Two states over, Ray was moved by the powerful and difficult decision his former teammates made and the domino effect that followed.
"They did something where they felt that they needed to make a difference and I was just really proud of those guys for doing that," Ray said. "Of course everyone's going to have their opinions on the situation. I was more so proud that my former teammates made a decision that this was that important to them, whether people felt that it was the right or wrong thing to do."
The considerable risk that the first group of players took in taking a stand is hard to fathom as even simply raising the subject of racism can be a divisive third rail, and the support of Pinkel and the rest of the team was a significant backing. The statement that they made was stunning, but not necessarily surprising, Ray said.
"He's backed us in all situations—win, lose, it doesn't matter. Once you go to the University of Missouri, you're Coach Pinkel's guy and he's going to do everything in his power to make sure that his players are taken care and treated with respect," Ray added. "He's a really genuine guy, and he really cares about the team, and once again, he's shown it by backing the football players."
After bubbling below the surface, racial prejudice became an issue that could no longer go unaddressed or ignored, and Missouri's students and football team helped foster the environment to lead to change.
"A lot of students experienced some things that made them feel uncomfortable enough to ask for the president to step down," Ray said. "That's pretty powerful. And you can't deny or ignore those kind of accusations or people's feelings on that level. It's really important, and I'm glad those guys were able to make a change and make a difference.
"If there's true racial injustice or sexist injustice, or anything along those lines that people feel like that they should step up for, this is the time. Missouri is opening up a door that if it's a problem, it can be addressed and a change can happen."