UM, MSU players raise fists during anthem

Tony Paul and Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

Several college football players in the state have joined the racial justice movement started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last month.

Three Michigan State players held their fists in the air during the playing of the national anthem before the game against Wisconsin on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Then, a few hours later down the road at Michigan Stadium, at least six Michigan football players did the same before their game against Penn State.

The gestures come a day after students and fans at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti marched on the field following Eastern Michigan's game against Wyoming — during a week in which pro-KKK graffiti was discovered on campus.

Kaepernick caused a firestorm — on both sides of the issue — when, prior to an exhibition game, he refused to stand for the anthem. In games since, he's taken a knee, and many athletes in various sports have followed suit, reacting to a string of police shootings of African-Americans in the nation.

Michigan senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who often uses Twitter as a vehicle for his voice on social matters, was asked what message he hopes is getting across by raising a fist during the anthem.

“(There’s an) injustice here in this country, and we have to take notice of it,” said Lewis, who said he has been raising his fist during the anthem each game — he missed the first three with an injury but was on the sideline. “That’s really what it is. It’s nothing (of) disrespect toward the country or anything like that, but it is injustice.

“We’ve got to come together. Honestly, we have to encounter each other more. We have to be involved with each other more. We can’t just think, ‘OK well it is injustice how do we fix it from the outside?’ We have to come together as a human race.”

Asked about his players joining the cause, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio gave a calm response.

"To me, we've talked about this three or four weeks ago. Your patriotism, your faith, are sort of the same," Dantonio said. "That's your choice, and it's influenced by what you've experienced in this world. So whether somebody salutes or puts their hand over their heart, or does something else, everybody has a choice to make.

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"And we're in college, our young people are in college, and I can promise you this one thing: That when the flag is presented in some respect, I guess it becomes much more important. It's not just, 'Oh, by the way, we're just standing for the 'Star-Spangled Banner.'

"They have decisions that people have to make, and as long as it's done in a peaceful way, this is America, and that's what the flag stands for. It stands for their freedom to do what you need to do, and that's the beautiful thing about this country."

Dantonio, despite his team suffering its first loss of the season, in a 30-6 rout, kept going on the topic, where his game-related answers were much more brief.

"At some point in time when the true enemy comes, I guess we'll all stand together," Dantonio said. "But I can't make assumptions for our players, what they've gone through in their lives. All I can do is try to lead in the best way I can, and be positive and accepting for our football team and our players.

"When we come together after the national anthem, we come together in solidarity, and I think that's what's important."

The Michigan State players holding their fists in the air were freshman safety Kenney Lyke, fifth-year senior defensive end Gabe Sherrod and senior running back Delton Williams. All are black.

The Michigan players with their fists raised included Lewis, freshman linebacker Devin Bush, senior fullback Khalid Hill, senior linebacker Mike McCray and senior offensive lineman David Dawson and freshman linebacker Elysee Mbem-Bosse. All are black.

Lewis said he does not know if this will be a weekly demonstration. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was not aware the players had planned to do that during the anthem. He said he is supportive of his players.

"There's a freedom of expression, somebody can speak their mind," Harbaugh said after a 49-10 victory over Penn State. "I support our guys, and I think this is something that's not going away. It's gonna keep happening.

"It's not something that's gonna keep them out of heaven."

Lewis said the decision to raise a fist before the Penn State game was not in reaction to shootings this week.

“It’s not just this week, it’s the whole mess,” Lewis said.

None of the MSU players who raised their fists were made available for comment after the game, despite media requests for availability.

But MSU teammates supported everyone's right to express themselves as they see fit.

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"You do what you have to do, that's your own belief," senior receiver R.J. Shelton said. "You do what you feel is right."

Said MSU junior linebacker Shane Jones: "They're entitled to their own opinions, and especially in this time and age. People feel a certain type of way toward certain things. People are allowed to speak out against it."

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis didn't respond to a request for comment.

At Eastern Michigan on Friday night, meanwhile, several students marched on the field following the game, chanting, "No justice! No peace!"

Racially charged graffiti including a racial slur was found painted on a wall in Julia Anne King Hall on Tuesday. Another painted slur was discovered Wednesday.

EMU president James Smith condemned the graffiti, and on Saturday he publicly supported the peaceful protest.

"We have great respect for our students engaged in the constructive efforts under way to address the issues we face," Smith said in a statement, while crediting the Department of Public Safety with keeping tension under control and for keeping everyone safe.

"And we strongly defend and support the rights of students to peacefully demonstrate about issues important to them."

EMU coach Chris Creighton said following the 27-24 victory over Wyoming that he talked late in the game to officials about safety concerns as the crowd of fans began inching closer to the field, behind the end zone.

Neither the officials or EMU coaches or players believed the protesters were being overly aggressive.

As for his stance on the issues, Creighton said the team had a long discussion on the topic earlier in the week.

"Even last night (Thursday), just about things that are going on in our country and on our campus," Creighton said. "And it was a very positive, very deep, very meaningful, respect-filled conversation among our team.

"I was super proud of the dialogue that we had."

At EMU on Friday, the national anthem was played before the players and coaches took the field, out of safety concerns. Smith, who became president earlier this year, sat and conversed with students during the game.

Kaepernick, who is biracial, took a lot of heat, especially on social media, when he first refused to stand for the anthem — but he had a whole lot of supporters, as well, and soon, the movement was joined by more and more players in the NFL. Kaepernick has since pledged $1 million, to be donated to charities addressing the movement.

In the WNBA, the entire Indiana Fever team knelt during the national anthem prior to a recent playoff game.