By Ken Reed

Nebraska is a red state — in multiple ways. The midwestern state is home to the Big Red football team at the University of Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have been a long-time power in college football and have a devout, red-clad following. The school has the longest home sell-out streak in the country at 54 years. Yes, you read that right. The Cornhuskers have sold out every home game since JFK was president.

Nebraska is also a red state when it comes to politics. Nebraska is one of the strongest Republican footholds in national elections and currently is one of Donald Trump’s most secure states.

So, it’s a little odd that Lincoln, Nebraska would be the home to some of the most enlightened thinking when it comes to the peaceful national anthem protests started by Colin Kaepernick.

Three Nebraska football players have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. Before they did so, the players approached head coach Mike Riley with their plan. Riley was fine with the players’ protest but first wanted them to explain their reasoning to their teammates. His lesson for the team was that people can have different opinions on socio-cultural issues but still show mutual respect and still come together to work towards a common goal.

All was not lovey-dovey at Nebraska, however. University of Nebraska regent Hal Daub suggested that the three protesting players don’t belong on the team. He also said he was “not pleased” with how Riley handled the situation. And Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts labeled the players’ protest “disgraceful and disrespectful.”

Nevertheless, Riley remains confident that he and his team are handling the situation the right way.

“I’m certain of how we’re handling it,” Riley said of allowing players to kneel during the national anthem.

“They (players Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry and DaiShon Neal) took an opportunity with a situation to make a point. Which I respect. Within the confines of our team, it was well-respected by our team, and I love that. And all these guys are just beautiful guys who are really thoughtful. When they did that, there was a ton of thought that went into it. I really, truly believe there are tons of opinions across this country about something like this. And I’m not going to worry about that. I have a firm belief about what I think is right and wrong. What other people say, they’re certainly entitled to say. I have respect for the fact that they can say it.”

Riley said he’s also fine with Daub’s comments.

“He’s entitled to to say that,” Riley said. “I have complete confidence in what I believe in and how I handled it within this team. It was the right thing to do — because it’s their right.”

Nice job Coach.

Listen, I certainly get that for a lot of people the flag represents all the men and women who have fought to protect our country and its freedoms through the years. But the flag also represents the First Amendment, which protects a lot of our freedoms as citizens and guarantees Americans the right to express opinions that might not be popular with others.

It’s the First Amendment that separates us from a lot of countries, whether in the past or today. Kaepernick and others are simply exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully protest some conditions and situations in the United States that bother them (and that should bother all of us as Americans).

I’ll end with some eloquent comments from Rose-Ivey on why he and his teammates chose to do what they are doing.

“As we looked at what has been going on in this country, the injustice has been taken place primarily against people of color and we all realize there is a systematic problem in America that needs to be addressed,” said Rose-Ivey.

“We felt it was our duty to step up and join the chorus of athletes in the NFL, WNBA, college and high school using their platforms to highlight these issues. … To make it clear, I am not anti-police, anti-military, nor anti-America. I love my country deeply and appreciate the freedoms it professes to afford me. …

“Unfortunately, I cannot turn a blind eye to injustice. As Dr. King once said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict… (an individual) who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.’ So therefore, I believe it is my job, first as a man of faith, which teaches me ‘for what you do for the least of my brothers, you have done for me.’ And second as a young black man, who sees people who look like me being unfairly treated, who do not have the platform to let others know about these injustices that go on every single day. …

“Some believe Daishon, Mohamed and myself should be kicked off of the team or suspended, some say we deserve to be lynched or shot just like the other black people that have died recently. Another believed that since we didn’t want to stand for the anthem that we should be hung before the anthem for the next game. These are actual statements we received from fans. …

“We must have accountability, we must have understanding, we must have love, but we also must have genuine dialogue that finds genuine solutions and demands genuine action. We must demand that from ourselves, we must demand that from our family members, we must demand that from our friends, we must demand that from our schools, we must demand that from our police officers, we must demand that from everyone in this nation. That is everyone’s role as a conscious human being. I believe that we are supposed to look out for one another and call out the injustices in this world against the oppressed, even when you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. …

“America is a great place, despite the ugly blemishes. I love that I am able to wake up and worship my God, without fear of persecution. I love that I am able to express my viewpoint and I am protected by Constitution of the United States. This is what makes America great. But I cannot also ignore those things that keep America divided. I believe in the promise of America, that all men are created equal, have the right to liberty, justice and equality but unfortunately America doesn’t always live up to these ideals. So in the words of James Baldwin, ‘I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.’ It is my hope that in taking a knee, the consciousness of the entire nation will be raised and everyone will be challenged to truly come together and work towards fairness, equality and justice for all. We have an important role. We all have this responsibility. God Bless.”

Now, that’s a well-spoken football player who clearly put a lot of thought into his position on this issue. It’s also clear that he takes the responsibility of active citizenship seriously.

Kudos on a job well done go out to Nebraska head coach Mike Riley and his senior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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