New Mexico football had a news conference Tuesday to explain the circumstances and context surrounding the situation where five players knelt during the national anthem played at halftime of the team’s game vs. Air Force on Saturday.
As lightning before the game meant the scheduled pregame ceremonies were altered and a lightning delay between the first and second quarters meant a halftime of five minutes, neither team was expecting the anthem to be played. But New Mexico’s band went on the field and played it, and Stanley Barnwell Jr., Kimmie Carson, Garrett Hughes, Elijah Lilly and Michael Sewell Jr. all took a knee.
“They had every right to do that legally, morally, ethically,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “I support them 100 percent. I feel more strongly now 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.”
Davie said his team was shocked the anthem got played and, as he met with his players, the word “ambushed” was even used. He noted that he was disappointed that the players’ spur of the moment decision to take a knee was being spun by some — much like the protests in the NFL — into something it wasn’t.
Davie’s full opening statement in the video above is well worth the listen.
“I am disappointed in the narrative so quickly going to they did this out of disrespect for the military, they did this out of disrespect to the Air Force Academy, they should be taken off scholarship. I would never come to another game if these players play in another game,” Davie said. “That narrative is divisive. That narrative is hateful. And I think it’s very important that we do this here today, and I give them a lot of credit for being here today, so that we take these helmets off these players for a second and it’s not that some figure kneeling there. It’s a person, it’s a person who thought at that moment when they were surprised that maybe they were doing the right thing. Take that into account. Let’s take the helmet off these kids for a second here.”
Davie also said he wanted to apologize to the players that knelt because he didn’t envision a situation like this happening. College football teams are typically still in their locker rooms when the anthem is played.
“I take responsibility for this,” Davie said. I was never given the opportunity, never in my wildest dreams did I think we would be out there as the national anthem was played. Never did I think that. We had talked about this issue but I apologize to these guys because if this would have been handled the right way in my opinion and we would have had time there would have been a complete show of solidarity and their voices would have been heard and all their voices of their teammates would have been heard. But nobody would be singled out. Nobody’s name would be written and out there across the country.”
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said after the game that the players had every right to take a knee during the anthem. Hughes said Tuesday the move to take a knee was a positive protest.
“We took a knee for something we believe in,” Hughes said. “We took a knee to stand with Kaepernick against injustice in America right now. We didn’t do it to disrespect the flag. There was honestly no negative connotation with the kneel — it was a positive protest … we took a knee for something we believe in. Point blank.”
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