As “The Star-Spangled Banner” played before Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State University, a group of about 20 University of Michigan football players stood, arm-in-arm, to protest structural racism and societal inequality— a symbolic action part of the much larger #TakeaKnee movement currently spreading across the country.
The #TakeaKnee movement was created in response to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem, a move that is believed to have prevented him from finding a job with another NFL team. Since then, many professional and college teams have echoed his statement by forming their own protests during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
This game was the first time Michigan has taken the field since President Donald Trump made a series of remarks criticizing the NFL and the allowance of players to kneel during the national anthem.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence walked out on the Indianapolis Colts’ game against the San Francisco 49ers after a number of players took a knee in protest. He later tweeted he will not exalt any forms of protest he finds disrespectful to U.S. soldiers and the flag.
Demonstrations against racism, especially by Michigan student-athletes, are not new. Last Fall, student-athletes raised fists or kneeled during the national anthem in almost every game, even when the cameras were not focused on them.
In an interview last year with the Daily, current LSA senior and cheerleader Priscille Huddleston explained why she decided to lead other athletes in raising their fists as a form of protest — emphasizing how her position as an athlete makes her more visible as an activist for social justice.
“It’s historically been the athlete’s position to empower their community,” Huddleston said. “It’s sparking conversations in classes. I only have a platform for four hours … I only matter in uniform, and I have to use that time and make it count. I have a block ‘M’ on and I’m not just supposed to wave a pom-pom and cheer you on. You can’t expect me to be silent. I didn’t understand how much of a platform I had until now.”
Just last week quarterback John O’Korn, an LSA senior, posted an Instagram with a caption supporting his fellow players’ right to kneel during the national anthem, as well as condemning those fighting to “change the narrative” to avoid discussing racism.
“Confused, frustrated, and heartbroken by many of the things that are happening in America in 2017,” O’Korn wrote. “Somewhere along the lines, whether it's the media, the government or others, the real message has gotten lost. The problem isn't the national anthem, but many have fought to change the narrative to avoid discussing the real issue at hand. Racism and hatred have no place in our country. They have no place in our university. They have no place in our lives.”
Last month, Public Health graduate student Dana Greene made a statement by kneeling on the Diag for 21 hours to bring attention to the multitude of racist and xenophobic actions that have taken place both on campus and across the country. Over the course of the day, he was joined by students, faculty and administrators who provided food, water and support for his mission — Greene noted he was amazed by how people of such diverse background joined together.
However, some students voiced disappointment with what they called a lack of respect toward what the flag means. Information student Robert Burgess noted in an email that has circulated around campus a necessity to respect armed forces.
“By sitting during the national anthem, that only gives reason to question the authenticity of the university as a whole,” Burgess wrote. “YOU represent the university. YOU are gifted people being here, you should not be influenced by a fad the NFL brought to light.”
“What I am looking for on Saturday is not only Black student and Latino students and Muslim students or gay students to sit in protest — I am looking for all,” Greene said. “For everybody. Not in disrespect to the flag or this country or the great people who have served it and died for it, but to say, ‘No, we aren’t living up to our values. What can we do as a country, as a nation, as a campus to live up to what we should be standing for?’"