UNL chancellor meets with Husker players who knelt during national anthem, sends out message of support

UNL chancellor meets with Husker players who knelt during national anthem, sends out message of support
Photo Courtesy: Matt Ryerson / Journal-Star via AP

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green met Wednesday with Husker football players who knelt during the national anthem before last Saturday’s game.

Earlier Wednesday, he wrote to UNL students, faculty and staff in support of the players.

Calling freedom of speech “an indelible right,” Green said UNL welcomes varied views.

“The diversity in our thoughts and opinions is what leads to productive discourse,” Green wrote. “I am saddened that the peaceful — and by their intent respectful and prayer-centered — actions of our students resulted in threats from a few individuals in public forums.”

The chancellor said he understood that many believe the protest could have been done in some other way. Nevertheless, “the fact remains that their personal choice to speak in this way is a protected right that we all are afforded by the Constitution.”

The players’ action at the Northwestern game followed a national wave of athletes who have knelt, sat or raised a fist during the national anthem as a way to bring attention, they argue, to police shootings, brutality and oppression of minorities.

Regents Chairman Kent Schroeder of Kearney said Wednesday that there have been reports that some regents may want to take action against the players.

“I can assure you that we will take no such action,” Schroeder said in a letter to NU faculty, students and staffers.

“There is perhaps no more appropriate space for open and honest dialogue — even dialogue which some of us may find uncomfortable or offensive — than an institution of higher learning,” Schroeder wrote. “The Board of Regents will abide by its long-standing policy and the Constitutions that govern our state and nation. We will not restrict the First Amendment rights of our students, faculty or staff.”

Regent Robert Schafer of Beatrice said through a written statement that he didn’t support “the venue these student athletes chose to express their political or social viewpoint.”

Schafer, a member of the Nebraska Air National Guard, said he supports the players’ right to protest.

“Many African Americans believe the justice system is tilted against them, and too many Americans of every skin color are victims of violence,” he said.

Schafer said there are “real issues that cannot be ignored and should be addressed through conversations and positive actions in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, and across our states and nation.”

Schafer’s criticism was somewhat similar to that made Tuesday byRegents Hal Daub of Omaha and Jim Pillen of Columbus. Both criticized the venue in which the players chose to protest.

Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey, defensive end DaiShon Neal and linebacker Mohamed Barry knelt during the anthem before Saturday’s game at Northwestern.

NU President Hank Bounds, who has defended the players’ rights to protest under the First Amendment, sent a letter to all students, faculty and staff in the NU system. Bounds reiterated his point.

“The University of Nebraska will not restrict the First Amendment rights of any student or employee,” he wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska issued a statement Wednesday calling the First Amendment “a bedrock for American values” and praising the players “for having the courage to speak truth to power.” The statement was made by Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska.

“Our democracy is strengthened by robust debate,” Conrad wrote.

And student government at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will consider a resolution this evening supporting “the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression among UNL students, faculty and staff . . . “

The proposed student government resolution also encourages dialogue “to address and find solutions aimed at ending violence and systemic racism against African American people and people of color.”