Since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began protesting the national anthem over a month ago, many college athletes across the nation have followed suit. Athletes have chosen to sit or kneel during the anthem rather than stand, protesting police brutality and institutionalized racism in the U.S.
While The Post and Courier in Chareslton, S.C. noted that many college football players are still in the locker room for the anthem during regular season games, several college athletes of various sports have protested the anthem during their games and matches. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Mara Green, a senior volleyball player from Florida State University, knelt during the anthem at her team’s match against rival Florida on Sept. 15, even as spectators in the stands yelled for her to stand up. Two football players from Indiana Wesleyan University did the same on Sept. 17, according to WJBC, and their coach, Norm Eash, defended the athletes’ freedom to protest.
“We have highly intelligent student-athletes here at Illinois Wesleyan and it’s a liberal arts education here,” Eash said to WJBC. “So you would expect that from our students here. I mean, they’re taught to think feely and for themselves.”
Head football coach at Clemson University, Dabo Swinney, spoke out against Kaepernick’s protest during a press conference on Sept. 13, according to The Post and Courier. While he said he would not discipline an athlete who chose to protest the anthem, as it would be his right, such protests are distractions to the team.
“I don’t think it’s good to use the team as a platform,” he said. “I totally disagree with that. Not his protest. But I just think there’s a right way to do things. I don’t think two wrongs make a right. I think it just creates more divisiveness, more division.”
He added that he believed Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have supported the protests, noting that King would have instead argued for unity.
Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, assistant professor at Clemson’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, penned an open letter to Swinney published in The Grio on Sept. 14, decrying Swinney’s statements and contesting the coach’s invocation of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Your statements reproduce a long history of folks, conservative and otherwise, positioning Dr. King as the palatable Christian alternative to unruly black protest,” he wrote in The Grio.
Kumanyika also noted his consternation that Swinney, “a white man who makes somewhere in the area of $5 million a year from the physical labor and bodily risk of unpaid black athletes,” would even be asked his opinion on “disciplining” student-athletes making political statements. Swinney has since apologized to his team for those comments, according to ESPN, asserting that he did not “mean anything negative” by them and insisting that he does not want to serve as a distraction for the team.
In the month since Kaepernick’s initial protest, cheerleaders have also followed his lead. At the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic, held at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 17, the Howard cheerleading squad knelt during the anthem, according to CNN. The executive president of Howard’s school of communications, Zachary Johnson, tweeted a widely-circulated photo of the cheerleaders and noted that several football players joined in the protest with raised fists. “The backlash African-Americans are receiving right now is the exact reason for the protest,” Johnson said to CNN.
That same weekend, two cheerleaders at the University of Pennsylvania protested the anthem at the team’s opening game against Lehigh. Junior Alexus Bazen brought the idea for the protest to her coach and teammates and received both permission and support, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
“All over the news there has been brutality and violence against people of color, and I truly believe in fighting for equality and standing up for what I believe in,” she said to the Pennsylvanian.