After a summer filled with national-anthem protests on football fields across the country — including in some Big Ten stadiums — conference commissioner Jim Delany on Thursday said he respects any Big Ten athlete who chooses to protest social issues during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Speaking at Big Ten Media Day in Washington, D.C., Delany was asked whether the conference has a stance on anthem protests. Here is his entire answer:
“The league stance on it is as follows: First and foremost, they’re citizens and students. Then they’re players on college teams. And so, I think we’re at a vector in our society where a lot of difficult issues are facing us, and I think as such, our young people have a right to express themselves symbolically and peacefully.
“I would, in addition, encourage them to act: act as voters, act in their communities, and I think that there are a lot of zone, whether it’s a press conference or whether—I personally stand for the anthem, I personally believe in speech, I personally love college basketball and college football, but I love our freedom more than I love college football or college basketball. But as long as it’s done in a right way, in a respectful way, then other people may hold different feelings, and those are respected, and I definitely respect our coaches, who have the challenge of helping our young people move from teenagers to young adults.
“And we’re at a place and time in our country where I think it’s worthwhile to take a hard look at a lot of issues. And I think that our players, as students and citizens, have those rights, and I respect them for that.”
Since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem before a preseason game in August, and similar acts have followed, from high school to the NFL, and into other sports such as professional basketball. In the Big Ten, a trio of Nebraska players led by LB Michael Rose-Ivey, Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis and three Michigan State defensive players have protested during the anthem in one way or another.
In the case of Nebraska, while coach Mike Riley supported his players’ right to protest, Rose-Ivey said he and teammates Mohammed Barry and DaiShon Neal received death threats and were subjected to racial slurs over social media, while one University of Nebraska regent said the players should be kicked off the team.