The five University of New Mexico football players who took a knee during the national anthem in last weekend’s home game against Air Force faced the media for the first time Tuesday.
They flanked Lobos head coach Bob Davie following a morning practice on UNM’s south campus and fielded questions about their decision to exercise a peaceful protest in a game that was broadcast live nationally by CBS-Sports Network.
Seniors Kimmie Carson and Garrett Hughes were joined by juniors Stanley Barnwell Jr. and Michael Sewell Jr. and sophomore Elijah Lilly as they knelt during the halftime rendering of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Saturday. All five said they don’t regret their actions last weekend, saying it was merely a symbol of their feelings about racism in America.
“It was a positive protest, for better use of words,” Hughes said.
The story made a brief splash on various national news sites, prompting Davie to gather his players and address the media Tuesday in a sign of team unity.
“A good place to start is that they had every right to do that. Legally, ethically, morally,” Davie said. “I support them 100 percent. I feel more strongly more than ever that our football team is unified and that our football team is really a big part of the solution moving forward, not the problem.”
Both Davie and Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said they were caught off guard by the anthem’s start. In college football, both teams typically remain in their locker rooms when the anthem is played before the opening kick.
A passing thunderstorm prevented UNM officials from playing the song in addition to a number of pregame activities last weekend. They kept fans from entering the stadium until half an hour before the 5 p.m. start, prompting school officials to make an announcement over the public address system that the national anthem would be pushed back to halftime.
Neither coach was made aware of it, so when the song was started both teams were clearly caught off guard.
The players said they felt ambushed by the song’s start and they didn’t have a chance to exercise a coordinated response. Aside from Lilly and Sewell taking a knee side by side at the north end of the team’s sideline area, none of the others was aware that they weren’t alone in taking a knee.
“When you’re put in a position where you have a split second to think of a decision, basically just becomes instinct,” Hughes said.
Barnwell said he was inspired by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the 2016 season as a show of protest in the name of racial injustice. He said he and a number of his Lobo teammates talked about it and decided they had a chance to take their own stand.
“I feel I can’t do much right now, but what I can do being a student athlete and being on TV and all that, I can stand behind something,” Barnwell said.
Lilly said if the situation comes up again, he will take a knee again.
Davie said if the team is ever on the field during another rendition of the anthem, a more unified approach will be in order.
“Let’s put it this way, it’ll be different than it was,” he said.