Northwestern football joined teams across the country on Saturday and followed on the heels of NFL players as the team locked arms after the national anthem during last weekend's game against Wisconsin.
The team decided to link arms after talks between the coaching staff and players regarding unity and a proper way for the players to peacefully protest. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was supportive of his players, who tried to promote a feeling of unity among themselves.
“If guys are going to execute their freedom of speech, then that’s a choice that I’ll fully support,” Fitzgerald said during an Oct. 2 press conference. “It’s a choice that we have all been given and a privilege. When you're a student-athlete, you're given a platform – a lot is expected. When you decide to get involved and engaged you should be commended. That takes courage.”
President Trump claimed that national anthem protesters disrespect the American flag and the ideals it stands for, including the service of military members across the globe. In a tweet, he claimed that NFL players have an obligation to stand for the country.
The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 25, 2017
Fitzgerald, however, argued otherwise, saying the players’ demonstration was grounded in solidarity and unity with each other, and not in insulting members of law enforcement.
“When you look at the peaceful protests the guys have made, [they are] not [directed toward] the national anthem, our military or the freedom that we have all been provided,” Fitzgerald said. “I say that, and 40 percent of the country takes it out of context. That's the 40 percent you can't control and I’ve expressed that to our guys. A lot of guys on our team have military families, that have first responders [and] that have law enforcement. Our guys fully support [these members of society] from the conversations that I've had with them.”
Senior running back Justin Jackson emphasized the team’s diversity and noted that the players and staff focused their protest on appreciating these said differences.
“We have a lot of different guys on this team [who] come from a lot of different backgrounds [and] a lot of different viewpoints, but we always talk about respecting each other, loving each other and supporting each other,” Jackson said. “If someone wants to [protest], that’s their right as an American citizen to do that.”
This past Sunday, NFL teams were more subdued in their protests, which garnered less attention than those of previous weeks. In college football, the response was muted for most major programs over the course of the current anthem controversy. Northwestern’s demonstration was one of the few, coordinated expressions of protest performed on Saturday.
Northwestern plays its Homecoming game against Penn State this Saturday at 11 a.m at Ryan Field. The team has historically always been on the field for the national anthem.