Free speech is one of the most crucial American values and as long as a player can give a solid reason for their protest, Tech football coach Mark Satterfield said he believes they should be allowed to do so.
“As long as I can walk up to you and say ‘why are you sitting down?’ and you can look me in the eye and say ‘I’m protesting this,’ then I have no problem with it,” Satterfield said. “I think too many times people are just doing it and they don’t even know why they’re taking a knee. And that’s sad.”
More than 200 NFL players either knelt, stood with linked arms or stayed in the locker room during the national anthem on Sept. 24. Americans reacted with different opinions – some violently opposed the players’ actions, while others insist the First Amendment protects them.
The protests started last year when Colin Kaepernick, the then-quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sat down while the Star Spangled Banner played during a 2016 preseason game. Kaepernick cited racial injustice as the reason behind his protest.
Last month, President Donald Trump said he thought the NFL should fire players who choose to protest during the national anthem because he believes it disrespects the United States military and their families.
Scott Wilson, sports editor for the Cookeville Herald Citizen, believes the recent protests are a response to Trump’s suggestion to the NFL, unlike Kaepernick’s views on racial injustice. Wilson believes the widespread protests on Sept. 24 had nothing to do with race.
“If you’ve ever experienced a locker room, that’s a unique place,” Wilson said. “You have multiple people from multiple nationalities come together in one place for one cause…they really are brothers.”
Wilson explained how a football team is like a family, and when someone picks a fight with one, the rest of the team defends him.
But whether the protests will affect college and high school teams locally is still to be seen.
“I haven’t seen it happen at a high school or college level, but I can’t imagine that it won’t eventually,” Wilson said.
Three high schools counterprotested in Tennessee, Georgia and Texas last week. The football players ran out onto the field carrying American flags.
“The NFL has been using that venue for other causes, we wanted to make sure our platform was used for what it was intended,” David Gillum, a coach at Anderson County High School, told WBIR. “Our kids have dads in the military. Some of them are over there right now. We wanted to do our part to show support for the freedoms they fought for.”
Satterfield said he does not believe the protests will affect Tech sports.
“We are not out on the field when the national anthem is played, so it will not affect us from a national anthem standpoint,” Satterfield said.
The Tech football team has not talked about the issue and does not consider it relevant to TTU sports.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with us right now,” wide receiver Dontez Byrd said.
Linebacker Elliott Normand said although the team is aware of the protests, they haven’t talked about it collectively and they don’t see it affecting them since they don’t walk out onto the field until after the anthem.
Wilson pointed out that the Tennessee Titans, the only team to stay in the tunnel during the anthem, made the smartest decision.
“They didn’t even come out, so there’s no display that could be taken as a slap against the military or their country,” Wilson said.