Mizzou safety Martez Manuel and defensive coordinator Ryan Walters played an integral part in the Tigers peaceful march in downtown Columbia last week to demand justice and promote equality.
Manuel, a former Rock Bridge football standout, initially came up with the idea and Coach Walters offered his support. Manuel said he wanted to take on this leadership role because this is his community.
"I realized we’re football players second, and we’re people first," Manuel said. "That’s when I was like if nobody else is going to say anything, I'm going to say something especially when it comes down to me being from Columbia."
Manuel said he has many connections in town, including with the Columbia Police Department. His former Rock Bridge teammate Isaiah Patrick is an officer with CPD.
"I reached out to him actually to just let him know like hey man, I'm here for you. I know this isn't you. This isn't what you believe in."
Manuel said it was important to have local law enforcement march with the team to show unity. At the Boone County Courthouse, they all took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd.
Coach Walters came up with the idea to get the players registered to vote. 62 student-athletes, including Manuel, signed up at the Boone County Courthouse.
"What you say and what you do has to align, and that’s the definition of integrity," Walters said. "If we are saying that there is an issue and a problem, obviously, you need to point it out you need to address it. You need to bring attention to it, but you also have to be a part of the change. To me, the way you have a voice in any matter in terms of what’s going on today is you’ve got to register and you got to go vote."
Manuel agreed, "I feel like it’s really important for the youth to get involved because we can all be keyboard warriors and tweet about stuff, but if we’re not actually doing anything, like our only thing we can do as citizens to make a change, then what are we doing?"
Walters and Manuel agree this is a good first step, but they would like to see the team continue to advocate for change. Manuel said the coaching staff will excuse all of the players from workouts on Election Day. He also said he'd like to have more conversations with administration and staff about topics other than football.
"Just showing us that our school doesn't only care about us cause we're on the field making them money, but they care about us as the people we are too."