Howe: Hawkeyes Should Be Allowed to Peacefully Protest During Anthem
IOWA CITY, Iowa – I’ve covered Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa football program for all of his 21-plus years at the helm. I’ve learned during that time that he’s a good person, he cares about others, especially his players, assistant coaches and their families.
We have blind spots, however. I really admit I do.
Ferentz met with the media on Wednesday via video and revealed one of his. He showed again that he doesn’t fully understand the impact of peacefully protesting during the national anthem before Hawkeye games.
Almost three years ago, when the country was debating whether or not San Francisco 49rs quarterback Colin Kaepernick should be kneeling during the anthem, Ferentz took a strong stance against his team taking part. The peaceful protest throughout the NFL and other sports, as Kaepernick explained continuously, was not about dishonoring the military.
“My preference is we keep politics to our individual time,” he said then. “That’s how I look at it. Pertinent to our players, we work with college-aged students. Certainly we encourage them to grow, and be curious and ask questions. To me, that’s healthy. As long as you’re alive you should be doing that.
“But this is the one time we put everything aside. We all dress alike, act alike, and we’re trying to do the same thing. Whatever they do on campus is great, as long as it’s not illegal or immoral. I’m all for it.”
Other college coaches, including Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, were accepting of player anthem protests at the time. Ferentz was asked what he would do if a player requested to take a knee during the Star Spangled Banner.
“I’d ask them to do it on their own time, probably. Use a platform where maybe it could make a difference. Here’s the way I look at it, too. Name anybody that’s against or in favor of social injustice? Like anybody? Who is in favor of cancer? Who is in favor of all these things that are out there? I can’t imagine there is anybody in favor of dumb stuff,” he said.
“So go do something that could really make a difference? Go do community service. Go to an activist rally. Go listen to candidates talk when it’s political season. I’ve got my blue shirt and red tie on speaking of politics and primaries and all that stuff. But go listen and find out what candidates are really about, and go vote. Go vote.”
Ferentz showed some movement since those comments in September of 2017.
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“It was something that really was a hot topic and it comes right back to light now. I had pretty strong feelings. One of my feelings hasn’t really changed. Game Day is a day for us as a program. In a perfect world when we’re all together, in a normal, healthy world, that’s how we want to operate. We want guys to dress alike on game day, we want them to be uniform, whether it is their uniform or the way they do things, the way they conduct themselves. There’s a certain game-day protocol,” he said Wednesday.
“In conjunction with that, I’ve always felt like the sports arena is not a time to shine a light on an individual cause or an individual thing, no matter what the topic may be. That’s been my approach.”
Ferentz went on to say he would discuss it with his team when it reconvened this month after the COVID-19 shutdown.
“My goal or my hopes as a coach is whatever we decide to do, if it’s pertaining to that particular thing, I’d just like to see our team be together. So everybody’s taking a knee or everybody’s at attention, either way. The big thing is to be together on game day and present a uniformed appearance as a football team.”
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As sports fans, we understand that sentiment. We often talk about a team’s chemistry and camaraderie. It matters.
This cause is bigger than sports, however. If we’ve learned anything over the last 10 days, it’s that every voice and action matters. And the billion dollar business of college football can have a role in that. Millions are watching. And many of its players are impacted by predjudice.
If anything, allowing athletes to stand up for racial injustice could very well bring them closer together. Having a vote, captains deciding, coaches deciding or however the Hawkeyes come up with either standing or kneeling as a team could very well be divisive.
Say it’s a vote. There’s 125 players. Sixty three vote to stand. How do the other 62 feel? What if 63 decide to kneel. How do the 62 that would rather stand feel?
Allowing some to stand and some to kneel isn’t going to determine the outcome of games. It lets each individual know you care for them as a person and respect their right to stand up for what each one believes in. Not everything has to be done as a pack.
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As far as Ferentz saying “I’ve always felt like the sports arena is not a time to shine a light on an individual cause or an individual thing, no matter what the topic may be. That’s been my approach,” my wife asked the question:
“What about ANF (America Needs Farmers)?”
Iowa wears helmet decals with that on it. It’s trademarked. It has a partnership with the state’s farm bureau that honors a Hawkeye and sponsors a home game annually.
It’s a great cause started by legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry to support farmers during a crisis in the 1980s. It continues helping people. It’s important.
I’m glad Ferentz hasn’t made a final decision and is open to hearing from his players. I hope he paid attention to how the black athletes reacted to Drew Brees‘ statement on kneeling Wednesday and the one made by Aaron Rodgers.
There’s still time to do the right thing.