Husker players explain decision to kneel at national anthem; Gov. Pete Ricketts calls protest ‘disgraceful’

Husker players explain decision to kneel at national anthem; Gov. Pete Ricketts calls protest ‘disgraceful’
Photo Courtesy: Matt Ryerson / Journal-Star via AP

LINCOLN — A national conversation on race and police violence started by an NFL quarterback last month continued Monday with three members of the Nebraska football team and a high-profile critic, Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Huskers Michael Rose-Ivey, DaiShon Neal and Mohamed Barry said they knelt during the national anthem before Saturday’s Northwestern game in a show of “solidarity” with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling in August during the anthem to protest what he believes are wrongdoings, including police violence, against African-Americans and minorities.

“We felt it was our duty to step up and join the chorus of athletes in the NFL, WNBA, college and high school using their platforms to highlight these issues,” Rose-Ivey said as part of a statement that he read to the media at Memorial Stadium.

During his monthly live call-in radio show, Ricketts called the players’ decision to kneel “disgraceful and disrespectful,” while also upholding their right to protest.

“Generations of men and women have died to give them that right to protest,” the governor said. “I think the way they chose to protest was disgraceful and disrespectful.”

Ricketts was answering a comment from a North Platte caller who said Nebraska officials should put the three players on a ship and “dump them in the ocean.”

The governor did not respond directly to that comment, but he said later that he condemns any violent threats or language lodged toward the players.

“We’d never want to tolerate that,” he said.

The three Huskers, Ricketts said, could have found a different way to get their point across, such as raising their arms — or fists — as some athletes have done.

NFL players and college and high school athletes around the country this season have carried out similar protests to Kaepernick’s, including the raising of fists, during the anthem. Two Lincoln Southeast football players have knelt during the anthem at games.

At home games, the Huskers typically are in the locker room during the national anthem, so Saturday’s road game, NU’s first of the season, was the first time that they were on the field for it.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley said Rose-Ivey, a senior, spoke “very eloquently” to the team Saturday before the anthem about his decision to kneel. Riley said he promotes respect among teammates, even when they don’t agree with each other’s viewpoints.

Barry, a redshirt freshman from the Atlanta area, said kneeling during the anthem was the “perfect time” for players to get their point across.

“What’s another time when people would actually talk about it?” Barry said. “If we did it during practice, no one would talk about it. If it was any other particular moment — but the national anthem, that glorifies America and all that, that’s a perfect time.”

Barry said he’d received “far more” positive responses from fans than negative reaction.

“They care about me as an individual,” Barry said of Husker supporters. “They care about the minority and all that. I’m more happy with being here now than ever.”

Riley said he hadn’t personally heard a lot of criticism related to the three players’ decision.

“Nobody is going to see this in the same way, so there’s going to be a ton of different opinions,” he said. “That’s what makes America what it is.”

Rose-Ivey said in his statement and in his brief answers to reporters’ questions that he’d been called racial slurs and heard mentions of violence after the game.

“Some believe DaiShon, Mohamed and myself should be kicked off the team or suspended, while some said we deserved to be lynched or shot just like the other black people who have died recently,” said Rose-Ivey, who is from the Kansas City area. “Another believed that because we didn’t stand for the anthem that we should be hung before the anthem the next game.”

Neal, an Omaha Central graduate and a redshirt freshman, said the criticism didn’t bother him, but some negative Husker fans “showed their true colors.”

“Coming out with the racial slurs, the N-words, hatred words, hatred letters, all type of different stuff,” Neal said. “Saying, ‘I hope you break a leg and don’t play again’ type of stuff. I’m used to all that. That doesn’t bother me at all.”

Rose-Ivey, Neal and Barry all said their goal in kneeling was to promote more awareness of social issues affecting people of color, and not to criticize the police or the military.

“I am not anti-police, I am not anti-military, nor am I anti-American,” Rose-Ivey said. “I love my country deeply, and I appreciate the freedoms it professes to afford me.”

Neal apologized if his decision to kneel offended any member of the military.

“But I do not apologize for my act of taking a knee,” he said. “I’m going to stick to what I believe, and what I believe is right.”