With one eloquent, passionate and gut-wrenching speech this week, Nebraska senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey explained exactly why this country needs to have quite uncomfortable conversations about race relations.
And that’s why he, along with teammates Mohamed Barry and DaiShon Neal, took a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game at Northwestern. They weren’t the only college football players to join the peaceful protest that Colin Kaepernick started; a handful of Michigan and Michigan State players also raised fists during the anthem prior to their games on Saturday.
In all three cases, players took opportunities on social media and with reporters to explain the reasoning behind their actions, and their feelings about police brutality and injustice against people of color. Rose-Ivey also used the platform to describe the vitriol that followed.
“Some believe DaiShon, Mohamed and myself should be kicked off the team or suspended, while some said we deserved to be lynched or shot just like the other black people who have died recently,” he said. “Others believe we should be hung before the anthem before the next game.”
We’ve seen coaches, general managers, pundits and just about anyone with access to akeyboard chime in on this kind of protest, and the responses to it. But what Nebraska did before and after its players’ actions was particularly exceptional — and it should provide a blueprint to any organization that has athletes wanting to protest peacefully and thoughtfully.
Riley allowed Rose-Ivey time to address his teammates prior to Saturday’s game to explain his decision and open a dialogue about it. Players appreciated it and respected the conversation; even those who did not kneel with Rose-Ivey said they supported and respected his decision to kneel.
“This is obviously a choice they have made for personal reasons and that’s the beautiful thing about the United States that they can do that,” Riley said afterward. He also said Rose-Ivey spoke “quite eloquently” about the subject matter.
That is exactly how a football coach should support his players.
Even as this particular protest faced its critics, Nebraska responded in a way that would make anyone with ties to the school proud.
When the governor of Nebraska called the kneeling during the national anthem “disgraceful and disrespectful,” Rose-Ivey reached out to him to set up an-person meeting to discuss both of their viewpoints. Gov. Pete Ricketts responded that he will get something set up right away.
When a Nebraska regent Hal Daub said he believed the players that knelt should be kicked off the team and that the program should “let them get out of uniform and do their protesting on somebody else’s nickel,” Nebraska President Hank Bounds issued a firm rebuke and a strong statement of support for the three football players in an open letter posted Wednesday morning:
“I have served in the military,” Bounds wrote. “I understand love of country and love of the flag and I know that freedom is not free. I recognize that some are upset by what they saw on Saturday night. But let me be clear. The University of Nebraska will not restrict the First Amendment rights of any student or employee.”
That is exactly how a school president should support its athletes.
In an age in which so many high-profile figures refrain from speaking out on social issues, it’s refreshing to see Nebraska giving its students an opportunity to do so — without fears of retribution and without fears of condemnation.
Those in actual positions of power at the university — the school president and the head football coach — have defended their athletes’ right to free speech and have encouraged the conversation around this protest to be just that: A conversation, which is the point of any peaceful protest.
I can’t think of a better way to handle an admittedly difficult topic.