By Courtney Baumann
Once a week, those who cover the Iowa football team go and interview players and sit in on head coach Kirk Ferentz’s weekly press conference. When I left media availability on Tuesday, I left feeling uneasy.
It seemed inevitable that someone would ask about the NFL protests.
“If somebody felt strongly enough that he had to make a political statement during the season, would you support him?” a reporter asked Ferentz.
Ferentz didn’t say no, but he didn’t say yes. And that’s the problem.
Instead, he indicated he would prefer his players do it on their own time. He compared racism and inequality to other social injustices. He compared it to cancer. He said players should go vote, do community service, attend an activist rally. Just leave football as football.
“Use a platform where maybe it could make a difference,” Ferentz said.
The Iowa/Penn State game on Sept. 23 led viewership for network television that night, with 4.68 million people watching. Million.
For a majority of the Hawkeye football team, this platform — the one where they play on national television — will be the largest and most important they will ever get the chance to be a part of.
By making a political stance, by peacefully protesting in front of millions of people, these student-athletes have the ability to effect change and influence those watching. How can Ferentz possibly think that the platform those players have available to them could not make a difference?
Everywhere you look, social media, the newspapers, even in conversations on the street, everyone is talking about Colin Kaepernick, NFL players taking a knee, and President Trump’s “SOB” comments.
Football is a platform that matters.
“Here’s the way I look at it, too; name anybody that’s against or in favor of social injustice? Likeanybody? Who is in favor of cancer? … I can’t imagine there is anybody in favor of dumb stuff,” Ferentz said.
Who’s in favor of cancer? Probably no one. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, but people do.
Who’s in favor of racism and inequality? People who are racist and believe that people of certain religions, genders, or backgrounds are not equal.
There are people out there who are in favor of that “dumb stuff,” Kirk.
And another thing about cancer — football does, in fact, use its national platform to support those with it. How many teams wear pink during October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Almost all of them.
What about the Kid Captains the football team partners with every week? They are suffering. Iowa is using football as a platform to promote awareness of the diseases, to bring in donations for the treatment and care for those sick children.
Why can’t football be a platform to bring awareness to all the other “dumb stuff,” too?
“So go do something that could really make a difference. Go do community service. Go to an activist rally … But go listen and find out what candidates are really about, and go vote. Go vote,” Ferentz said.
Community service isn’t what we’re talking about here. I have a hard time seeing how picking up garbage on the side of a highway or walking dogs at the local Humane Society is going to bring about racial equality.
Voting is well and good, but we can’t vote every day. The damage is done. Citizens have to be able to make a stance in every day life to try to make a difference.
Like I said before, football has proven to make a difference with other issues. Why is inequality still a taboo topic? Why will kneeling NOT make a difference?
“If you really want to do something, do something. But some things are just way too easy. I think in a lot of cases people just kind of follow the crowd … Use your own mind,” Ferentz said.
Yes, use your own mind. Use your own mind, and realize that racism is not OK. Use your own mind, and try to understand what some people go through.
Use your mind, and follow the crowd.
Follow the crowd that is taking a knee and standing up for what is right.
And one last thing: taking a knee during the national anthem is not a protest against our country’s song or against the flag. It’s a protest against the injustice people of color and minorities face every single day.
Keeping sports and politics separate has never and will never be a thing. Athletes took political stances at the 1936 Olympics. Jackie Robinson did it. Muhammad Ali did it.
Athletes are people with real opinions. Who is anyone else to keep them from voicing their concerns?