NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest reached Elmhurst College when six EC football players took a knee during the national anthem before their season opener against Loras College on Sept. 3, and again the following week at Olivet College on Sept. 10.
While the players did not publicly state their reasons for kneeling, the move came after several professional athletes such as soccer international player Megan Rapinoe and NFL linebacker Brandon Marshall refused to stand during the anthem.
Each did so in solidarity with Kaepernick’s refusal to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” as Kaepernick told NFL Media.
The six EC players, five who are black and one who is white, have declined to comment, but head coach Ron Planz said he supports his players’ rights to express their opinions.
“I think in an educational institution like Elmhurst, it’s important to let guys express themselves in a way that’s non-violent and [to allow them] to express how they feel, so I support that 1000 percent,” he said.
The players — who were identified by a video broadcast of the game as junior Kaylon Miller, senior Perode Charles, sophomore Angel Burciaga, junior Michael Dicken, junior Victor Ogbebor, and senior Jonathan Niblack — are among the first college athletes in the U.S. to follow in Kaepernick’s footsteps and refuse to stand for the national anthem.
Five days after the Bluejays’ first kneel, three black West Virginia University Tech (WVU) volleyball players also knelt during the anthem.
WVU Tech player Keyonna Morrow told WCHS News she believes Kaepernick was exercising his right “to choose to sit or stand” during the anthem, an opinion shared by those who believe the quarterback’s peaceful protest is protected by the First Amendment.
Some of those in opposition to the protest believe refusing to stand for the national anthem is disrespectful to the United States Armed Forces. In support of that opinion, some college officials like University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven have issued statements encouraging student athletes to stand during the anthem.
“While no one should be compelled to stand, they should recognize that by sitting in protest to the flag they are disrespecting everyone who sacrificed to make this country what it is today — as imperfect as it might be,” the statement reads.
EC president Troy VanAken believes the military serves to protect those who wish to express their political opinions in ways like Kaepernick and the EC players did.
“I have relatives, [including] my father-in-law, who served in the military to protect the rights of people to do those types of things,” he said. “I think it’s being done in a respectful way… I think it’s their right.”
In addition to academic officials like McRaven, officials of professional organizations have taken measures to prevent athletes from protesting the anthem.
Bill Lynch, owner of the Washington Spirit, recently prevented Seattle Reign’s Rapinoe from protesting the national anthem by deciding to play it before she was on the field.
“While we respect every individual’s right to express themselves, and believe Ms. Rapinoe to be an amazing individual with a huge heart, we respectfully disagree with her method of hijacking our organization’s event to draw attention to what is ultimately a personal — albeit worthy — cause,” read a statement by the team.
At the EC vs. Olivet game Saturday, Olivet College followed suit by playing the anthem before both teams were on the field.
Ryan Shockey, athletic director at Olivet College, later clarified that the early playing had nothing to do with the protest, saying the teams have “always just stayed inside the locker room” during the national anthem.
Shockey expressed his support for the players’ right to protest the anthem, adding that three Olivet players— who he was unable to identify— protested the anthem the week prior to the game against EC.
“It’s a big part of who we are at Olivet College,” he said. “We’re very inclusive. I just ask that the kids give me a heads up before so if someone asks about it, I can support [them] in what [they’re] doing.”
VanAken also suggested that he will not prevent players from kneeling during the national anthem.
“You are going to find that some institutions [will] say that it’s not going to be allowed to happen, [but] I think there’ll be a number of institutions that will have a similar view as Elmhurst College in saying that that’s something we are going to give the players the right to do,” he said.