Max Copeland joins students to ‘Stand With Sam’

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^Kelaney Lakers (left) and Alix Carruth (right) pose for a photo with former Mizzou offensive lineman Max Copeland. (Photo credit: Alix Carruth)

Max Copeland showed up alone.

His hair was cut and his beard was trimmed. He wore sunglasses, a brown leather jacket, jeans and black boots loosely tied. He looked like a badass. And, of course, he held a gallon of “Drinking Water” in his right hand.

Outside of his giant build, nothing alerted people that he was part of the football team. No “#MizzouMade” T-shirt. No pads. No funny phrases or complicated words. He was simply Max.

“Are you Alix?” Max asked, smiling, as he approached the Stand with Sam event coordinator, sophomore Alix Carruth, a few minutes after 1 p.m. A tall, Texas woman, Alix smiled back and extended her hand. She asked Max to help her coordinate the counterprotesters to form a line along Stadium Boulevard.

Max came to support everyone who was standing with Sam. After playing countless games in front of the crowd, he finally joined them. The energy of his love for Missouri football was conserved, changing forms from the field to the fans.

Copeland graduated in the winter with a degree in physics. He’s still living with his kid brother on campus and taking a class in web design. His scholarship extends to the end of the spring semester.

I followed Max around for awhile. I didn’t want to bother him, but I wondered why he was there. I summoned the courage to ask the 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound colossus if I could hang out with him. His face brightened.

“Sure man,” he said, turning toward the crowd with his black iPhone and snapping a picture. He said he sent the photo to Michael Sam. Minutes later, Copeland said Sam responded with “OMG.”

“He has a good sense of humor,” Copeland said of Sam’s reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church protest.

Copeland, though, didn’t share that humor. The Westboro protest deeply hurt him. Copeland, like any other physics major, desires to understand the universe, but the Westboro protest didn’t make any sense. He didn’t want to get near the protesters.

Despite the hurt he felt, Copeland smiled to the hundreds of people he saw at the protest. He wore a “Stand With Sam” rainbow button. He posed for pictures and Snapchats.

“That guy’s the real f—–g deal,” a student said, after getting a photo with Copeland sticking his tongue out.

For nearly 20 minutes, Copeland talked to a complete stranger, quoting “Braveheart” and debating morality. Every time a car passed him and rolled down its window to take a picture, he joked and yelled, “Tag me!”

Copeland made the students laugh. His energy kept those around him warm.

After a phone call, Copeland met up with two current players on the football team. They couldn’t go on the record or reveal their names because all football player interviews are set up through the team. The three big men talked about the counterprotest and Sam.

Media swirled around Copeland. The Columbia Missourian,  Kansas City Star and well-known freelancer Ashley Zavala all wanted quotes. Copeland obliged but didn’t want the sole focus of their pieces to be about him. After all, the counterprotest was about supporting Sam, not about himself.

“(Sam’s announcement) shouldn’t be a big deal, but this is sort of the process of making it less of a big deal,” Copeland said

Then Westboro Baptist started to picket. Copeland stood toward the back of the quarter-mile line as it shuffled forward to the picketers at Stadium Boulevard and Providence Road. Carruth said that she worked with MU Police to line the protesters on one side of the street and the Westboro Baptist Church on the other.

The walk seemed like a wake before a funeral as students passed the lifeless “God hates fags” protestors, witnessed their demonstration and left for home.

The line moved slowly. To kill time, I asked Copeland about his eating habits. He laughed and told me he consumed six chicken breasts a day during the season. Now, he’s eating salmon, too, and lifting before his pro day in March.

“Could you make sure they stay in a line?” Carruth asked Copeland as she passed him. She figured no one would mess with Max.

But someone did. A man with a “Westboro Bap-Dick” sign ran past students and screamed his displeasure toward the protest. Max fired back.

“We are no better than they are if we do that,” he said.

The anti-protester turned to “Mad Max” as he walked away and screamed, “Thousands of people didn’t die in 1776 for this s–t to happen.”

Max turned to an older woman next to him and discussed if his statement was historically accurate. They both agreed it wasn’t.

Finally, after two hours standing in the 25-degree cold, the Westboro protest packed up and left. Cheers and “M-I-Z, Z-O-U” chants sounded between the scores of remaining students.

“We won!” Copeland exclaimed, warmly.

Max posed for more photos as students returned to their dorms. He talked to Carruth and fellow organizer sophomore Kelaney Lakers for another 15 minutes. Although he was en route to his first Mizzou basketball game at 3 p.m., he wasn’t in any hurry.

He made sure to thank the organizers. His presence had certainly made an impression on them and they, too, asked for a photo.

Passing Faurot Field, Max talked about how odd the fame was for simply playing football. He always enjoyed talking with fellow students and admitted that he didn’t hang out with his team all the time.

“I never wanted people to think that I was part of some cool club,” he said.

I was surprised Max came to the protest. No one would have noticed if he didn’t show up. But he did. He messaged Carruth and Lakers on Facebook asking if he could help days earlier.

We shook hands before he headed to the Mizzou Arena. I said goodbye as he stood at the corner of Stadium Boulevard and Tiger Avenue, the frigid wind whipping his pink face.

He waited alone for the light to turn.

Tradition dies as snow days rise

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Introduction: It’s a snow day and I realized I haven’t updated this blog recently. I’m writing in response to a Sports Illustrated article written nearly 30 years ago that mentions my current apartment, University Place. Around campus, Mizzou seemed a lot more fun back then. Now, most of life for MU students happens off campus. This post, coinciding with the 175th anniversary of MU this year, should be viewed as a time capsule problem in 2014. 

Next year, I’m moving off campus, and I’m pretty upset.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not upset at my choice, Brookside. You know, the new, multi-million dollar housing complex located off College Ave. It’s the place with the spacious rooms, rooftop pools and timely busses.

I’m upset because around MU there’s a severe lack of housing, causing me and thousands of other students to move away. And the available housing near campus, well, sucks.

I need to get out of my current apartment, University Place. Although the location is awesome (right across the street from campus), my hallway reeks of stir fry and sewage. The heat occasionally works. And, despite lacking a pool, our ceilings leak.

Heck, this place is so old, a cannon piece once shattered through the top floor.

Living off campus, even if it’s a mile away from the Student Center, seems tremendously far away from MU. For one thing, I can’t roll out of bed and attend class. I’m not a five-minute walk away from the Columns and Shakespeare’s anymore.

But housing wasn’t always like this at Mizzou.

When my mother went here in the 1980s, students could live in the dorms for four years. If you didn’t want to do that, conveniently located housing, like University Place and East Campus, could handle the spill over of extra students.

The focus on housing near campus encouraged people to live their lives around MU. Streakings, protests and nightlife all once occurred in and around Mizzou’s campus.

At one time, a Sports Illustrated article heralded University Place’s amenities (a 24-inch color TV in the lounge and modern kitchenettes) as it housed student-athletes in the 1970s. Parties here used to rival only the Sig Chi basement.

Now, life is stale around University Place. The building is falling into disrepair.

Mizzou is currently a dry campus and, aside from the occasional snowball fight at the Quad, its grounds are mainly used for schooling.

Still, I don’t want to move away from MU. A quick glance outside my apartment offers stunning views of Memorial Union, white campus and the Dean’s house.

But it’s not like I have a choice. Moving away is the trend. MU keeps admitting more and more students (my class was the largest incoming freshman class in history), but cannot match up to housing demand.

Life as a Mizzou student now occurs all over Columbia. It stretches from new homes on Old Prank Road to older homes west of Providence. I appreciate the attempt at creating “One Mizzou,” but that’s hard to do when students are living in three different zip codes.

The location of MU students all over Columbia creates logistical problems, too. Since enrolling in 2012, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing nearly half of the snow days called since the MU’s formation in 1839. Why? Because snow jeopardizes student’s safety driving and taking busses all over Columbia to school.

So, instead of working hard to secure housing across the street from MU, I went the easy route. I didn’t have to haggle with the landlords on East Campus or become forgotten on a waiting list. I just signed a few papers, put down a deposit and was guaranteed a room off campus next year.

As we celebrate our university’s 175th anniversary, maybe we should look to add more housing around campus in the future. Sure, off-campus housing seems enticing. But living away from MU distances students from a traditional campus life and creates more snow days.