Last week, three University of Nebraska-Lincoln football players kneeled during the playing of the national anthem at the Husker game against Northwestern. The players in question, Michael Rose-Ivey, DaiShon Neal and Mohamed Barry communicated their desire to protest the anthem to Coach Mike Riley before the game, who supported their decision.
The simple protest left a trail of hateful vitriol in its wake. Husker fans across the nation had a variety of reactions to the protest, from support to outrage, all the way down to displays of outright racism against the players, who are African American.
Statements issued by Governor Pete Ricketts and Board of Regents member Hal Daub condemned the young men, calling their act “disgraceful and disrespectful.” Hal Daub called for the players to be dropped from the team’s rosters.
The backlash prompted University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds to release a moving statement in support of the players.
“Whether they’re kneeling during the Anthem protest national anthem, holding the American flag on the field, praying after a game or expressing their opinion during class or on campus, all of that speech falls under the same category,” Bounds said. “All of it is protected.”
The widespread protests against police violence have stayed in the national conversation for close to two years, as police departments across the country are increasingly scrutinized for their use of excessive force against members of various communities. Many of these instances have included the killing of unarmed black men.
The resulting protests have been met with various reactions, and continue to write a new chapter in the push for equality for marginalized voices in this country. The peaceful protest by these men is an appropriate use of the platform that they inhabit as college football players, and the support of President Bounds of these students was not only welcome, but necessary to ensure that those who wish to may exercise their right to speak up against oppression.
Hopefully universities and other governing bodies (such as the NFL) follow the University of Nebraska’s example and continue to create spaces where dialogue and protest can happen peacefully.