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Initially, I was going to include some thoughts on the kneeling protest by three Huskers in my normal post-game column. But as the controversy grew and spun up separate storms, I felt that combining the two would do a disservice to the game, the protest, or both.
I’m also aware that some of you are reaching a saturation point with this story, so if you feel the need to click out now there are no hard feelings. That said, I hope you’ll read on with an open heart and mind.
I’ll tip my hand early: I support Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry, and DaiShon Neal in their peaceful protest. As an American, it horrifies me to watch videos of my fellow citizens being shot and killed by those who are supposed to protect us. But I’ll freely admit my support is much more self-serving.
My wife and I have adopted three children. Two are black and one is biracial. It scares the hell out of me that I can raise my son the “right way”, teach him respect for authority and law enforcement, how to be a model citizen, and still have him at risk every time he walks out the door. My boy is only four, but he’s already on track to be built like Barry, Rose-Ivey, or Neal – tall, lean, and muscular.
I plan to coach my children on exactly what to do if they are stopped by law enforcement. Stand perfectly still. No fast movements. Don’t reach into your pocket for your wallet or phone. Do what you are told and end every response with “sir” or “ma’am”. But it has become clear to me that in some parts of our great nation, my children could do everything perfect and still not come home. That terrifies me. I hope that is a fear you do not have for your own children.
So yes, I support Colin Kaepernick, Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry, DaiShon Neal, and those who choose to peacefully protest to draw attention to this issue. There are no quick or easy answers to the social and racial issues in our nation, but ignoring them or viewing them as somebody else’s problem is definitely not the answer.
So what did we learn?
You do not have to condone, agree with, or support the actions of Rose-Ivey, Neal, and Barry. I have no desire to tell you how to think, act, or believe. I know there are many who feel kneeling during the anthem is blatantly disrespectful – period. There are a lot of arguments that can – and have – been made on how there are more appropriate times and places for a protest. There are numerous statistics that have been offered to repudiate the stance these players are taking. And there are those who simply would prefer sports to be a refuge free from social and political issues.
You are absolutely entitled to your beliefs and opinions. As I mentioned above, this issue is close to home for me. It’s possible that I might feel differently if my kids were as pasty white as I am. From my perspective, all I would ask is you take a moment to honestly consider what they are protesting and truly put yourself in their shoes. If you still disagree, that is okay.
This is not a decision that came about lightly. I have seen many people referring to these players as selfish, attention-seeking, or simply parroting the behavior of some NFL players. I can’t speak for Rose-Ivey, Barry, or Neal, but I suspect that is wildly inaccurate. According to an interview with Michael Rose, Sr on “Sharp and Benning”, Rose-Ivey’s process included talking to his parents, Coach Riley, and finally the entire team. I suspect that along the way, Rose-Ivey was warned of the backlash he would face.
The decision to kneel put a ginormous spotlight on those players – and in several cases, put a target on their backs. In his statement on Monday, Rose-Ivey spoke of death threats. On “Sharp & Benning”, the elder Rose talked about how his youngest daughter lost a close friend because her parents would no longer allow the friendship to occur. Knowing how risk-adverse NFL teams are, do you think kneeling helps or harms the draft prospects of these three Huskers?
Let me put it another way: I’d guarantee there are more than just three players on that team who feel strongly about black men and women being shot by law enforcement officers across the country. But only three players chose to kneel. My hunch is that has much more to do about conviction of beliefs and the strength to take a stand than the desire to be in the spotlight.
It is possible to support Rose-Ivey as well as the military, law enforcement and others. I would hope this goes without saying, but you don’t have to choose sides. It is absolutely possible to love America and still want it to be better. You can (and in my opinion, should) support law enforcement while acknowledging that there are officers on the streets unworthy of the badge. You can dislike the manner and/or venue in which Kaepernick and others protest, but respect their right to do it. You can (and should) be thankful for the freedoms our military has provided and protected, and still want those freedoms readily available for every man and woman in our great nation. Conversely, it is certainly possible to not support these athletes without being a racist or a bigot.
So what don’t we know?
What should you do? I won’t tell you to support what Rose-Ivey, Barry, and Neal are protesting for. I definitely won’t tell you to support their method for protest. I would hope that I don’t need to remind you of their right to protest. This is a complex, emotional issue that hits on a several core beliefs that you and I hold dear.
I would ask you to do this: try to consider why these young men are doing what they are doing. I suspect the majority of people reading this are similar to me (white males born and raised in a state that is, according to census data, almost 90% white).
You may believe that all of these deaths were justified, that if the folks involved had complied – or had obeyed the law – they would still be alive. You may believe that nothing is worth disrespecting the flag of our great nation. You may think that “Black Lives Matter” is a joke, or that things like white privilege, institutional racism, and profiling are manufactured excuses. You may choose to believe any number of other things that are decidedly not politically correct. You may choose to cite statistics regarding race and crime in an attempt to deflect or negate the message. All of this is definitely your right.
I would ask you to picture yourself as a young, black male in America. Imagine what life is like when the notion that you could be stopped by police, comply in a non-threatening manner, and still be shot is a real possibility. If you are unable (or unwilling) to do that, try this: imagine how you would react if a large black male approached you on the street. Now, how would your reaction change if that black male was decked out head to toe in team-issued Adidas gear?
What comes next? Where does this protest go from here? As you likely know, at Nebraska home games the national anthem is played while both teams are in the locker room. So it is highly unlikely that the player protest will continue inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Beyond that, you’d have to look at Nebraska’s four remaining road games, as well as possible matchups in the Big Ten Championship and/or a bowl game. Will the Star Spangled Banner be played while the teams are out on the field? If so, do Rose-Ivey, Neal, and Barry continue to kneel? Do other players join them?
Outside of game day, what will come of the prospective meeting between Rose-Ivey and Governor Pete Ricketts? Will it be an actual conversation where tough issues are discussed and solutions are proposed? Or will it be nothing more than a photo opportunity? I am optimistic.
Is there any impact inside the locker room? Mike Riley has talked about respect for one another being a core value of the team. So far, any comment or reaction from other players has been to support their teammates. But with 140 guys on the team from multiple backgrounds, the odds are very strong that at least one guy disagrees with the issue, the manner of the protest, and/or the attention that is being drawn away from the team’s 4-0 start.
Assuming there is some level of disagreement within the team, how does that play out? It is handled face to face? Is there an unwritten “agree to disagree” policy in place? Or in the worst case scenario, do snide comments get made to the media creating factions in the locker room?
I have faith in Riley, the coaches, captains, and other team leaders to keep the peace and maintain focus on football goals.
5 People I Loved
- Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry, & DaiShon Neal. Even if you disagree with their message, or how they chose to present it, I would hope you can respect their passion and desire to put their names (and reputations) on something they believe in – something that @HuskerTroll69 isn’t willing to do.
- Mike Riley. I really respect how Mike Riley has handled this. We have no idea where he stands on the cause these three Huskers are protesting – or how they are protesting – but he has clearly created a culture of respect within the team. His quotes about the team being a “melting pot” and college as a time where “you gain a whole new awareness of the world as you go, and you start to form those opinions that are going to make you who you are for the rest of your life” are very enlightened. These are the things that recruits – and especially their parents – notice.
- Nebraska Fans. To those who have supported the three players vocally or on social media, I commend you. To those who disagree, but have kept your comments civil, I applaud you too. It’s okay to have differences in opinion – especially on complex issues like this. Being able to express yourself without name calling or disregarding the other side is a good thing.
- Local media. This has been a controversial issue with lots of land mines. There is an unlimited potential for hot take artists to run wild. But the local media – print and radio in particular – have done an excellent job of providing perspective, opinions from all sides, and fostering a mostly civil forum where we can discuss, debate, and agree to disagree. There are a lot of talented people in the Nebraska media, and they have done excellent work this week to provide a constructive conversation.
- Sam Hahn, Drew Brown, Zack Darlington, & Nick Gates. A discussion about the Star Spangled Banner before the Northwestern game would be incomplete without mentioning how four Husker players stepped in to assist with holding a large American flag over the field. I know it is easy to draw a distinction between the presumed patriotism of these four and the perceived disrespect shown by the other three, but I find that too simplistic. Instead, give proper credit to these Huskers for doing what Nebraskans love to do – step up to lend a helping hand without being asked, or without seeking credit.
5 Areas for Improvement
- Human decency. Death threats? Racial slurs? Suggesting players be lynched? I struggle to find any scenario where that would be remotely acceptable in a civilized society – let alone in reaction to a young man kneeling in prayer. My cardinal rule for social media is this: if I wouldn’t say it to their face, I’m not going to tweet it at them.
- Hal Daub. Between the quotes attributed to him by the Lincoln Journal-Star, calling for Rose-Ivey, Barry, and Neal to be kicked off the team, and his immediate denial in the Omaha World-Herald, the NU Regent did not come off looking very good.
- National Anthem decorum. A big part of the controversy has been the perceived disrespect to America and the flag caused by athletes sitting or taking a knee when the anthem is played. I get it. I’ve seen a lot of crappy behavior by fans over the years. People sitting, talking, not removing their hat, using their phone, or otherwise being oblivious and disrespectful. There are many members of Husker Nation who could use a friendly reminder on how to act during the anthem.
- Pete Ricketts. The Governor called the protest “disgraceful and disrespectful”, and suggested that raising their fists in the air – a symbol of the black power movement – would be a better alternative. Credit to Gov. Ricketts for agreeing to meet with Rose-Ivey and discuss the issue.
- Northwestern parachute guy. The BTN broadcast showed a person who parachuted onto Northwestern’s Ryan Field with an American flag behind him. It was a cool scene – at least until he landed and the flag was drug across the blotchy sandpit Northwestern calls a football field. I don’t know if the parachutist was a military member or a private citizen, but I’m more bothered by the Stars and Stripes being drug across the ground than I am about three guys taking a knee.