Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would have no issue if one of his players took a knee during the anthem.
“I would respect their right to do so,” Harbaugh said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches call.
He said he has had conversations with his players about the topic. During Sunday’s NFL games, a number of teams made a show of unity and protest — some linking arms, others kneeing, while some teams chose not to be on the field during the anthem — since president Donald Trump’s comments at a rally last Friday in Alabama. Trump said NFL owners should fire players who refuse to stand for the anthem.
Last season, several Michigan players raised a fist while standing during the national anthem.
“The gist of it is, you respect what they believe,” Harbaugh said. “Respect for them to address the anthem as they believe and see fit.”
A number of coaches shared their views on the issue during the Big Ten call.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said his team has an open line of communication regarding all issues they find important.
“I’m very fortunate here and blessed,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve got the future leaders of our country that I’ve got the privilege to coach every day. We absolutely talk about issues that are not only national in scope, but local and from the smallest things to the biggest things. We have open lines of communication in our program.
“Yes, I’m obviously a college football coach, but I’m entrusted with the leadership position of 112 very special young men on our campus. This is the college experience and every college campus has a different and unique heartbeat. We’ve definitely spoken about it as a team, most recently as yesterday. I allowed our guys to hear my thoughts, and I had our staff step out of the room and gave our guys however long they needed to discuss things and then I met with our leadership council yesterday at lunch and asked how was the meeting, where do you guys want to go, and I fully support you.”
Fitzgerald said this is all part of the college experience.
“We’re a team that’s going to talk about issues,” he said. “We’re gonna sometimes have to agree to disagree. That’s the great thing about our country, is we’re allowed to have our opinions as long as they’re thoughtful and respectful. I’m going to support that with our guys. That’s part of college, learning and formulating who you are.”
Illinois has had a long-standing police, coach Lovie Smith said, of not having the players on the field during the national anthem.
“It’s not going to be an issue fur us,” Smith said. “We don’t feel we have to change an awful lot on how we’ve been handling current issues. Most players have a mic at their disposable, and if it’s important to them, they can make their feelings known.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he believes sports and politics should be separate but also said people should be having conversations in a meaningful way.
“I don’t know, I guess I’m still of the opinion that sports are sports and one of the great things about sports is that hopefully no matter who we are, we can go to a stadium and kind of enjoy the sporting event and not have to bring all those other things into the arena, if you will. I kinda feel the same way when we’re together as a team. It’s a really unique time, place and time.
“Me, personally, I don’t think it’s the time or place for political commentary, that’s just my personal opinion. That being said, we’re dealing with college-age students, but not only in the college experience, just in life experience; if you’re alive, you should be thinking, you should be weighing and measuring. The great thing about our country is we all have the right to express our views and formulate our views and then express them in an appropriate way. One thing, as a team here, we’re together and we’re going to be together in whatever we choose to do. I think we’re all going to try to leave the politics outside of our team experience.”
Early this year, Michigan receiver Moe Ways said that after the first game several Michigan players raised their right fist during the anthem last fall, Harbaugh had a team meeting the next day. He told the players he wants them to speak freely.
“He said all I ask is you’re educated on what you believe in,” Ways told The Detroit News. “He said to make sure when the media asks you why you’re doing it, be educated about it.”