On the day the Michigan football team was supposed to kick off its season against Washington, several Wolverine players and parents instead gathered at Michigan Stadium to protest the season’s postponement.
The protest, which was primarily arranged by Michigan parents Peach Pagano (Carlo Kemp’s mother), Melissa Hutchinson and Lisa McCaffrey, included over 50 people in total, including a handful of players and coach Jim Harbaugh.
When the Big Ten postponed its fall football season in August, the players were not given input into the decision. According to senior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, they weren’t even told of the decision, instead finding out news through Twitter. Rumors have swirled for weeks about when the conference will restart, with dates ranging from October to the spring.
Those who gathered at the Big House intended to make their voice heard and send a message that they wanted to get back on the field as soon as possible, as well as to call for greater transparency around the conference’s decision-making.
“We’re just hoping to get the word out that it wasn’t our decision not to play at all,” senior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey said. “Our players were fully supportive of (playing) and we frankly didn’t really know they were gonna cancel. … We just feel as if the decisions were made by a lot of people that it doesn’t directly affect. I guess we want to know who was involved and who voted against it. And in that we’d love to just be able to talk to them, and share our point of view as well, which we feel like we were not able to share at all.”
After leaving Michigan Stadium, the group marched down Hoover Street and continued to the Diag. According to Pagano, the protest was originally intended to end at University president Mark Schlissel’s home, but that plan was scrapped due to construction on South University Avenue.
Once on the Diag, protestors chanted, “We want to play!” and sang The Victors. Then, Chris Hutchinson and Jack Harbaugh, Jim’s dad, addressed the crowd.
“What an exciting day, just think what it could’ve been had they allowed us to play,” Jack Harbaugh said. “This would’ve been kickoff time. In the locker room, looking around at the sweat beads coming off their foreheads, looking at each other knowing that you’re gonna have the chance to play the greatest game in America.”
Fifth-year senior defensive lineman Carlo Kemp emphasized that throughout history, college athletes have traditionally not had much of a voice in issues that impact them. For Kemp, participating in the protest was a platform to make noise about an issue he cared about. He marched with a handmade sign that read “We want to play” on one side and “I say when I play” on the other.
Kemp’s sign was a reference to the lack of agency he felt Big Ten players had around whether they would be comfortable playing. He pointed to the SEC, ACC and Big 12 as examples of the opposite, where players have the opportunity to opt out or to take the field.
“None of us here at Michigan, in the Big Ten, or in the Pac-12 really had the opportunity to talk to our families or make a decision about going forward as if we’re gonna play the season,” Kemp said. “Am I gonna play the game, am I gonna opt out, they gave me the option to opt out but we didn't even get that choice like some of the other Power Five conferences have right now where they have a voice, they can decide if they want to play this season or not, and we didn't have that choice.”
Pagano told The Daily that she, Hutchinson and McCaffrey arranged the protest to support their children on what was supposed to be gameday and to voice their support for having a season. “Our goal is to let them play,” she said. “That’s the whole thing.”
Kemp originally came into Saturday not knowing how he would feel waking up on what was supposed to be his last first day taking the field as a Wolverine. But attending the protest gave him a purpose as well as an outlet to voice his frustration. Though he’s not sure if any greater change will come from it or when the season will start, for now, Kemp is satisfied he was able to speak up.
“I woke up and I woke up pretty happy and excited today,” Kemp said. “I didn’t think this is how I would wake up this Saturday, the first Saturday of college football, but I haven't had the chance to even think about that and I’m happy because my mind’s been here, focusing on Michigan and focusing on trying to get the season again. Right now I’m happy, I feel good, I’m joyful.
“I didn’t think I was gonna be saying this on Saturday, so I’ll take this right now.”