LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska LB Michael Rose-Ivey knew he’d get backlash.
But he didn’t think it’d be like this.
He didn’t think he’d get messages on social media saying he should be hung during the national anthem of Nebraska’s next game, or that he’d be criticized by the governor of Nebraska on the radio, or that he and the two other Huskers who kneeled during the national anthem at Northwestern last week would be told on social media they deserved to be “lynched or shot.”
“People assume this is just Internet talk, but I can tell you from my own experience, at this very institution, and visiting other college campuses within the past few years that racism is still a problem that must be addressed,” Rose-Ivey said in a written statement on Monday.
The senior LB, along with DE DaiShon Neal and LB Mohamed Barry (both redshirt freshmen), kneeled during the national anthem before Nebraska’s game against Northwestern on Saturday in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other athletes around the country to raise awareness of police shootings of black men and women.
Inside the locker room, coach Mike Riley said on Monday the overall message has been respect. Rose-Ivey approached Riley on Friday about speaking to the team before the game. Rose-Ivey spoke during Nebraska’s walk-through on Saturday, Riley said.
Riley said he understands that there are 140 college students in his locker room, and that each of them has a different background and different perspective.
“What you try to do is appreciate and respect the differences right in this room and basically when you are a member of a team, you don’t let those differences affect what you’re trying to do as a football team,” Riley said. “In college I even remember, you gain a whole new awareness of the world. And you start to form opinions of who you are for the rest of your life. Which is why it’s special for us to be with these guys through this part of their life.”
Senior QB Tommy Armstrong said he stands by Rose-Ivey’s decision to kneel, and appreciated Rose-Ivey telling the team beforehand of his decision. That’s something that families do, Armstrong said. They tell their family what is going to happen before they do it.
“I respect those guys, and at the end of the day I support them no matter what,” Armstrong said. “We said, ‘Hey, Mike, you’re Mike-Rose, you’re our brother. We still believe you can make plays no matter what, but at the same time we need to be there to win that game.’ Mike is doing what he’s doing and that’s still my brother no matter what.”
Outside of the athletic department, the discussion on the protest caused uneasiness across the state.
On his weekly radio show on KFOR 1240 AM, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts called the players’ protest “disgraceful.”
“Generations of men and women have died to give them that right to protest,” Ricketts said after a caller asked his thoughts on the protest. “The way they chose to protest was disgraceful and disrespectful.”
Ricketts said he would have rather the players stand and “raise their arm” like some have done in the past to protest at the Olympics. Ricketts was most likely referring to the 1968 Olympics, when U.S. 200-meter medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the national anthem.
If the players did it that way, Ricketts argued, they’d still be standing for the national anthem.
Also, some Nebraska fans took to Facebook and Twitter to condemn Rose-Ivey’s protest and his comments on Monday. Rose-Ivey said he’s received criticism and racially charged messages from peers, classmates and Huskers fans on social media throughout the weekend.
“While you may disagree with the method, these reactions further underscore the need for this protest and gives us just a small glimpse into the persistent problem of race and racism in this country, and the divisive mentality of some Americans,” Rose-Ivey said. “People want athletes like DaiShon, Mohamed and myself to remain silent and just play football. However, we cannot ignore the lives that we’ve lived. And we as black athletes cannot remain silent.”
Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst declined to comment on the matter. University of Nebraska-Lincoln spokesperson Steve Smith said since coach Riley addressed the protests after the game, the university has decided not comment further.
Former Huskers running back Ameer Abdullah said on Twitter he was “completely ashamed of Husker Nation” for their comments.
The two other Huskers who protested with Rose-Ivey also gave their reasons for kneeling.
Neal said he protested so that people could try to understand that they aren’t just football players and they are more than “just an African-American who plays sports,” he said.
“People think, ‘Oh, he’s an African-American who plays sports, he’s living the good life,’ ” Neal said. “I mean, yeah, I’m getting a free education, etc., etc., but I don’t think people understand the challenges I face as an African-American man outside of football. After Saturday, I just go back to being a normal black kid in America who lives in Lincoln, Neb.”
Barry called Rose-Ivey an activist.
“He’s not phony, he’s not fake, he’s not following nothing,” Barry said. “I know he did it because he truly believes in his heart this is not right.”
Rose-Ivey said after his speech to the team, a few of his teammates asked what they could do and how they could help in his cause. That, he argues, proves his protest is working.
“That’s the thing that’s great that there have been people coming up and talking to me like, “What can I do? What is my role?” Rose Ivey-said. “So people telling me it does nothing, it’s a gutless action, you know what I mean? How? The conversation is starting.”