ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The moment was finally here. Jourdan Lewis had the chance to make an impact on the Michigan football team’s defense.
He also made a statement — and didn’t even touch the ball until well into the second quarter.
Lewis, Michigan’s All-American cornerback, missed Michigan’s first three games with back issues and a muscle strain, and made his anticipated season debut Saturday in Michigan’s 49-10 win against Penn State.
A few minutes before kickoff, Lewis was part of a group of several players on Michigan’s sideline who held their fists aloft during the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a silent but noticeable demonstration that’s taken place in many football venues across the country in recent weeks.
Then, Lewis took to the field. His presence and his gesture, as well as those of his teammates, didn’t go unnoticed. Just take a look at social media to read the polarizing chatter, but keep in mind Lewis and his teammates were exercising a constitutional right. A First Amendment right, in fact.
Shows of protest, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh conceded, aren’t going to disappear. He’s come to terms with the fact that his players have a right to take a stand.
On Saturday, Lewis insisted his raised fist — reminiscent of John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s Black Power salute on the medals podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City — wasn’t a protest, but a call to attention regarding police shootings, racial profiling and the hostile climate in our country right now.
“It was just something I felt strongly about,” Lewis said Saturday following the game. “It’s a nationally spread issue right now and I felt like my platform, it would get the message out. I said something before the first game of the season, but those guys, with current events right now, those guys did it on their own. I just followed their lead.
“It’s not disrespect towards our country or anything like that. But there is injustice. We’ve got to come together. We have to encourage everyone on both sides. We have to be involved in each other more.”
Lewis is one of Michigan’s biggest names on defense. Last season as a junior, he was fourth in the nation in passes defended (20 pass breakups, two interceptions) and seemed primed for the NFL. Instead, he chose to stay at Michigan to complete his degree.
On paper, Lewis’ season debut on Saturday appeared pedestrian; he had two tackles and broke up Trace McSorley’s pass intended for DeAndre Thompkins late in the first half, Lewis’ 29th pass breakup (to go along with four career interceptions) at Michigan. Michigan’s defensive backfield wasn’t tested, either. It allowed Penn State just 121 yards through the air as the defensive line smothered McSorley, the Nittany Lions’ quarterback.
“He’s a heck of a good football player but also a leader,” Harbaugh said of Lewis. “Guys respect him and know how hard he’s worked the last three to four weeks to get back to his position. So it’s just a plus-plus to have him back in there.”
Lewis is also one of Michigan’s biggest names when it comes to stating an opinion. Scroll through his Twitter account some time: @jourdanJD.
Why are we not infuriated America? https://t.co/a59hDudCJl
— Jourdan Lewis (@JourdanJD) September 20, 2016
“You have your platform,” Lewis said in July at the Big Ten media days in Chicago. “You have your 20,000 followers. You have a whole bunch of people. Why not promote positivity? Why not promote a good message? Why not fight for the right thing to do? I just think I have an obligation to the people around me and the people who helped me get to that position.”
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of Michigan’s best players seized the opportunity to use his voice on Saturday. Or, at least, his constitutional right.