Update: As we had hoped, a bill that focused on student athletes in Missouri that would have affected their scholarships simply for exercising their First Amendment rights has been withdrawn by its sponsor, State Rep. Rick Brattin. The legislation had become a lightening rod from the moment it was filed last Friday and brought heavy criticism to Brattin, saying it would be a violation of students' First Amendment rights.
In 1853 Dred Scott brought a lawsuit in federal court claiming he was a free man because his ten-year residence from 1833 to 1843 in Illinois — a free territory — made him so. At the core of his argument was his interpretation of the 1820 Missouri Compromise that that forbade slavery. Scott claimed that the Compromise was unconstitutional and in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights.
In 1857 the Supreme Court decided 7-2 in the landmark Dred Scott v. Sanford case in the favor of Scott’s slavemaster under Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The reasoning? Only a citizen of the United States is qualified to bring a case to a judicial court.
The court disagreed with Scott’s claim that he should be treated as a person and not property.
Missouri state representative Rick Brattin's bill would have revoked the scholarships of any healthy athlete that refuses to play and fire coaches who endorse such actions. Brattin, a Republican sees the athletes as property of state universities and not as people, just as the courts of 1857 saw Scott as property and not a person.
We shake our heads in disbelief at the Scott decision now, just as we do the unconstitutional bill that Brattin is proposing. That Mr. Brattin, who has never been to college, felt he was equipped to establish rules that negatively impact the rights of college students is insulting.
The bill’s goal was to further attack the financial stability of scholarship athletes. It was additional pillar of bondage on student athletes to keep them in fear of speaking out or risk losing their scholarship.
But forget this ridiculous bill for a moment. I believe it is time that we examine the profile of people like Mr. Brattin that propose obtuse legislation filled with vitriol, sexism, and racism.
So who is Rick Brattin?
Brattin is a white male in his mid-thirties from a small town of a population of less than 4000 people and 30 miles from Kansas City, Missouri. He grew up in Greenwood, Missouri and now lives in nearby Harrisonville, Missouri (population 10,019), which is about 40 miles outside of Kansas City, Missouri. Greenwood, where Brattin grew up, had less than 1200 households and families. The former US Marine who served for six years is not college educated but armed with nothing more than a high school diploma. His major legislative focus has been gun, abortion, and pet laws.
It would be stereotypical to suggest that this is all that can be expected of a man living in an isolated space (his farm is located on 40 acres), and who has only resided in rural locations of populations less than 11,000. But Rep. Brattin’s legislative history suggests that he fits the sterotypical profile.
One thing that can be said of Brattin is that his lunacy or outrageousness is consistent. This is not the first time he has initiated an offensive bill. He has a history of legislation that attacks women and the poor.
For example, he proposed a bill to prohibit supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients from using their funds to purchase seafood, chips, cookies energy drinks, or steak. Brattin, who earns $3000 monthly as a government employee and a $103 daily per diem, claims that the poor receiving government aid eat better than him!
In 2014 he filed HB 1469 that did not pass, but would have required all employers’ businesses to enroll or participate in federal work authorization program that would impose stricter penalties for companies employing unauthorized aliens.
He also pushed forward a bill on abortion that would require women to get men’s permission before getting an abortion—even if the relationship is abusive or the result of rape. His solution for the rape issue was to suggest that victims needed to prove “legitimate” rape.
But it gets crazier. Brattin proposed HB131 that would have forced Planned Parenthood to build a memorial to aborted fetuses. And in 2012 he proposed HB2036, which prohibits public schools from joining any association that governs interscholastic sports and activities unless the association sanctions the disciplines of archery, pistol, rifle, and muzzle loading. Say what?
While Brattin cannot be taken seriously, we do have to be serious in how we protect against the Brattins of the world that have slithered into powerful spaces and threaten democracy and justice. We do have to guard against legislation that attempts to shackle student athletes or make them permanent property of the state.
Serious protection is necessary because Brattin is on record saying that there is not a race relation problem on the Missouri campus. According to him incidents on the campus is merely a case of “a couple of dumb students who did stupid things.” He minimizes offensive acts such as waving confederate flags at protestors, drawing a swastika with feces on the wall, and shouting racial epithets at gay and black students.
One justification for this bill was that it wa one of a number proposed in response to the unrest at the university. It is supposed to get administrators to act and not follow the lead of students. Really? Why not just focus on cultivating equity and diversity, and responding to evidence of racism?
It is difficult not to see the bill as retaliation for Missouri football players’ activism, which Brattin viewed as a “completely horrific” act of holding the school “hostage”.
My first thought was to suggest that no Black or Brown basketball and football players attend Missouri in the future. But a better response might be for the University of Missouri basketball players to boycott all future games until Brattin repeals his ridiculous and offensive bill, or resigns from office and apologizes. I am willing to bet that Missourians like their basketball more than people like Brattin. If this bill had passed, student athletes would have been stuck in bondage like Dred Scott—viewed as property rather than as people with First Amendment rights.
Thabiti Lewis is Associate Professor of English and Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University. He is the author of Ballers of the New School: Race and Sports in America (Third World Press).
Editor's note: This article was updated from an earlier version that was published on EBONY.com before the bill was withdrawn.