December 16, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) A Missouri lawmaker withdrew a bill Wednesday that sought to strip scholarships from college athletes who refuse to play for reasons unrelated to health, saying he merely sought to spark dialogue about ''an extremely important topic.''

Republican state Rep. Rick Brattin proposed the bill Friday in response to last month's threat by University of Missouri football players not to play unless the school addressed complaints about racial issues on its main campus. The threat was seen as instrumental in forcing change, including the Nov. 9 resignations of the university system's president and the chancellor of its main campus in Columbia.

The bill sparked a social media backlash, with critics saying it would rob athletes of their free-speech rights by holding their scholarships hostage.

The proposal called for revoking the scholarships of any athlete who ''calls, incites, supports or participates in any strike.'' It also would have required colleges to fine members of coaching staffs for encouraging or enabling such student protests. Missouri's football coach, Gary Pinkel, publicly supported the players' stance. He stepped down days after the administrators resigned, saying he had been diagnosed with cancer.

In a statement Wednesday, Brattin said the issue - athletes and social activism that could affect their responsibilities under an athletic scholarship - ''deserves deliberate consideration.''

''While I am withdrawing the legislation, I hope the conversation will continue so that we can take steps to ensure the University of Missouri is providing a stable, positive learning environment for our young people,'' Brattin said. ''I sincerely believe students should be able to express their viewpoints, but I also believe our flagship state university has to keep and maintain the order that is expected from such an esteemed educational institution.''

Brattin did not respond to Associated Press telephone requests Wednesday for an interview.

State Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat who chairs the legislative black caucus, had claimed Brattin's measure ''seeks to further solidify and legalize institutional racism by targeting black athletes for exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and reducing them to the status of subjugated livestock.''

On Wednesday, Ellington called Brattin's withdrawal of the proposal a good move.

''This unconstitutional legislation never should have been filed in the first place,'' Ellington said. ''Seeking to punish those who peacefully take a stand against racial injustice violates not only the constitutional right to free speech but the values we hold as Missourians. Given the overwhelmingly negative response to his misguided and offensive proposal, I hope Rep. Brattin finally understands that.''

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