Cassie Follman ‘20
In recent weeks, Amherst College athletes have taken to kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality in the United States. The protests follow in the footsteps of National Football League and other professional athletes’ protests.
President Trump has made incendiary comments about the protests via Twitter, which sparked more protests on Amherst’s campus, though much like the professional athletes before them, the students have been protesting since Sept. 2016.
Biafra Okoronkwo ’20, a student at Amherst College, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “We as students of color and our allies, who demonstrate solidarity in the multifaceted forms in which that can take place are uniting, and shall raise our fists and lower our knees not against our nation, flag, military or our anthem, but instead for awareness towards the plight that people of color face every day through systematic oppression specifically in the form of police brutality.”
Okoronkwo spoke on behalf of the Black Men of Amherst Football and the council.
Amherst athletes have also gained the support of faculty members and staff. E.J. Mills, the head coach of the football team, expressed support for his players. He told the Gazette, “We’re happy where everyone is at and we’re [going to] respect everyone’s choices.”
Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and current free agent, started this trend of protests amongst NFL players.
President Trump, in reaction to more recent protests, condemned the players’ actions. He denied any connection between protests of police brutality and the kneeling, tweeting, “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”
The President also ordered Vice President Mike Pence to leave the football game between the Indiana Colts and San Francisco 49ers if the players knelt during the national anthem. The players protested, and the Vice President left. There was significant criticism for the trip to Indiana, with CNN claiming that it cost about $242,500 and many sources reporting that it was done as a publicity stunt to shame the players.
Amherst is not the only school to protest police brutality through kneeling, as student athletes and their allies are participating at various colleges and universities, as well as high schools, throughout the country.
These protests have sparked harsh reactions from some institutions though.
The New York Times reported that a superintendent of schools in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, Scott Smith, sent out a letter that read, “It is a choice for students to participate in extracurricular activities, not a right, and we at Bossier Schools feel strongly that our teams and organizations should stand in unity to honor our nation’s military and veterans.”
Other school districts outlined various punishments and discouragement for students choosing to kneel, with one school citing the potential for such students to be banned from the team.
Amherst Football will play Trinity College this Saturday on Pratt Field.