President Donald Trump made a speech in Huntsville, Alabama on Sept. 22, and in that speech he said NFL owners should fire any player who kneels for the national anthem. What followed was an almost month long whirlwind of media coverage, tweets, kneeling, a vice presidential walkout and protests.
The NFL player’s protests against police brutality and inequality during the national anthem have been the talk of news outlets and social media since that speech, and members of the Loyola community, especially in the athletics department, have opinions of their own on the protests.
As a Jesuit institution, Loyola has a mission for social justice. The cause behind the protests is seen as a major social justice issue that affects millions of Americans, including some Loyola athletes. The political and social landscape these protests seek to address is something the women’s basketball team talks about frequently, according to Loyola women’s basketball coach Kate Achter.
“I think my staff and I do a pretty good job of staying current with our kids and addressing the environment of not only our country but of campus,” Achter said.
Trying to learn from and understand her players, who come from different backgrounds, and back them up in any situation is important to Achter — including if they decided to make a statement during the national anthem.
“I deal with kids who have seen things I’ve never seen and will never see. But we try to do our best to make sure they know we have their backs,” Achter said. “I would allow them to do whatever they felt was in their best interest.”
The university and the athletics department have a responsibility to respect the beliefs and actions of its students and athletes because of Loyola’s social justice mission, according to junior track sprinter and political science major Leron Norton.
“Loyola being the social justice place that it is, there’s two sides to every story. So … say that 11 of the 14 girls on the basketball team wanted to kneel, those 11 should be able to kneel and the others should be able to stand,” Norton said. “It’s about being able, as a school, to accept everyone’s views regardless if they’re different from our own.”
There are no rules about what athletes must do during the national anthem and both Director of Athletics Steve Watson and Deputy Director of Athletics Jermaine Truax said they were in full support of their athletes expressing their opinions.
“They [the athletes] have come and spoken to Jermaine and I and their coaches,” Watson said. “We have encouraged them to be a part of it. By no means are we going to hold any of our athletes back when it comes to expressing the things that they believe in.”
It’s important for the athletes to know if they do decide to make a statement there could be backlash and unexpected consequences, according to Truax.
“We ask them to understand the cause, what you are doing and understanding the consequences for that,” Truax said. “Understand they are representing themselves. Being able to take the good and bad with whatever it is. Understand that people may not have your views and we don’t discourage it but what we ask them is to understand why you’re doing it.”
While some members of the athletics department are open to the possibility of national anthem protests, other Ramblers aren’t sold on the idea. The major argument against the actions of the NFL players is that the national anthem isn’t the time to voice a protest. Sophomore sports management major Derrick Berry, an Army veteran, said he believes there’s a right time to protest and the national anthem isn’t the right time. Berry was in the Army from 2011 to 2015 as a combat medic and served two tours overseas, in Afghanistan in 2012 and South Korea in 2015.
“I see the point, I get what they’re getting at and I fully support it, but then again, I believe there is a place and time for everything. To do it during the national anthem, it’s their right to do so, but me and a lot of different people out there would like to see it done in a different way,” the 25-year-old Jefferson Park native said. “I don’t think it’s about the flag or being patriotic at all, it’s more about the soldiers that couldn’t come back. What if you’re kneeling and a widow of a fallen soldier is there with her kids and the last thing they saw of their dad was a flag being put over their coffin? That’s just what gets me.”
Berry suggested an alternative for the NFL instead of protesting. He thinks the NFL should have an equality awareness month similar to its breast cancer awareness month in October.
“Having a month dedicated to it would be outstanding,” Berry said. “October is breast cancer awareness month, how much attention and awareness does that bring? November … you could create a ribbon, a patch and do something like that to bring awareness. I feel like that will create positive change, not negative change.”
Having a month dedicated to equality would be a great idea, but wouldn’t necessarily accomplish the same things the protests have, according to Norton.
“I think having an equality month would be a really good idea. I don’t know necessarily that it would promote the same amount of conversation that the kneeling has done,” Norton said. “I think … the biggest thing that the kneeling and different types of protests have done is everywhere you look, whether it’s CNN or ESPN, there is the same amount of talk about the NFL and the protests.”