Hlas: Free speech can come with price in college football

Pro players far more apt to use their platforms

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So far, there are few college football imitators of Colin Kaepernick, protester.

The NFL quarterback’s silent objection during the national anthem to what he has called oppression of people of color has sparked a lot of conversation, for sure. It’s also led to several other NFL players making similar gestures during the anthem. The entire Indiana Fever WNBA team knelt during the anthem before its playoff game Wednesday night.

While some NFL players feel secure enough or motivated enough or brave enough to protest publicly in the last month, and even some high school players (and a few of their coaches) in pockets of the country have done likewise, we’ve seen little of it from college players.

Universities are supposed to encourage independent thought and foster self-expression. But football, which feels like the focal point of so many major universities, often is where free speech goes to hide.

Maybe it’s just the nature of the sport and the mindsets of its participants. It’s covert, not overt. It’s regimented, not free-flowing. Its soundtrack is provided by marching bands, not jazz or rock or rap.

And, it’s run by coaches with more clout at universities than anyone ... when they’re winning. High school star players have all the power until they sign with a college. Then they have none.

You want to take a knee during the national anthem and get noticed, Mr. Big Man On Campus? Enjoy watching the game from the sideline, and maybe consider finding a different school.

When a team is unified, it can be a different matter. Last November, the University of Missouri’s football team said it would boycott all football-related activities until university system president Tim Wolfe resigned or was fired because of a series of racist incidents on the school’s campus. Tigers coach Gary Pinkel supported his players. Two days later, Wolfe quit.

But when it comes to national issues?

“I don’t think it’s good to be a distraction to your team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said at a press conference last week. “I don’t think it’s good to use the team as the platform. I totally disagree with that.”

Swinney went on to say “I think it’s so easy to say we have a race problem. We’ve got a sin problem,” and people who think “everything that’s so bad and this world’s falling apart, some of these people need to move to another country.”

That may not be an actual solution to anything. But at least the coach used a highly visible platform to speak his mind. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

This week, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked how he’d react if one of his Iowa players followed Kaepernick’s lead.

“That’s a really tricky topic, as we all know,” Ferentz said. “I would hope they’d come to me and let’s talk about it first. My preference, I’m not saying it’s a mandate, my preference is that we all be unified, be it our uniforms on the field, how we do things, certainly how we stand for the national anthem. That would be my preference. But that’s in a perfect world.

“But the biggest thing is I’d hope we could have some discussion ... I’d like to think there are better ways to voice how we feel about things.”

Former Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi was branded a patriot by many in these parts. Immediately after Iowa’s 2010 Orange Bowl win, he told Fox Sports’ Chris Myers “Of course, there’s nothing better than being American. If you don’t love it, leave it. USA, No. 1!”

It gave a lot of people a good laugh because it seemed to be a tribute to Will Ferrell’s race car-driving movie character, Ricky Bobby. But in an interview 10 months later, Stanzi insisted it wasn’t. In that same interview, he criticized people he said he saw at Iowa City’s downtown Ped Mall, claiming they were “going nowhere” and “don’t like America.”

He added, “The people who do things right and work hard, they don’t complain because there’s no point in complaining. If something happens to you, you take it on the chin and keep moving forward.”

Some might say that depends on what is happening to you and if it keeps happening because of you, or because of external forces.

But Stanzi spoke freely, and that’s still a good, American thing. Right?

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