The three players who chose to kneel during the national anthem ahead of last Saturday’s Husker football game demonstrated “poor judgment” and offensive behavior, one member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents said.
Regent Hal Daub of Omaha, a veteran of the Korean War and a former Omaha mayor, said in an interview that student-athletes at NU “are not supposed to do things that create disparagement or negative implications.”
“It’s a free country,” Daub told the Journal Star on Tuesday. “They don’t have to play football for the university either.
"They know better, and they had better be kicked off the team," he added. "They won’t take the risk to exhibit their free speech in a way that places their circumstance in jeopardy, so let them get out of uniform and do their protesting on somebody else’s nickel."
Daub continued: “Those publicity seeking athletes ought to rethink the forum in which they chose to issue their personal views at the expense of everyone else."
Huskers Michael Rose-Ivey, DaiShon Neal and Mohamed Barry elected to kneel during the national anthem on Saturday, a form of peaceful protest started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in August.
Opinions have been expressed from many corners, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, who during his statewide radio call-in show, told a caller that the anthem protest was "disgraceful and disrespectful" to men and women who have sacrificed for the country, but that he "respect(s) the right of those players to protest."
During that radio show, a caller suggested the players involved should lose their scholarships. "Kick them off campus," the caller said.
Daub said he's heard similar comments from constituents.
“My phone and email inbox are full of highly critical commentary," he said. "I find their copycat conduct -- which is what I call it -- offensive. I’m personally offended.”
Another regent, Rob Schafer of Beatrice, said as a current lieutenant colonel in the Nebraska Air National Guard with more than 31 years of military experience, he is “honored and privileged to be able to protect the very freedoms that these Nebraska football players have chosen to exercise.”
But, in a statement to the Journal Star on Monday night, Schafer said, “University of Nebraska athletics is a unifying source of pride for our state that should not be used as a forum for political or social debate."
“I do not support the venue these student-athletes chose to express their political or social viewpoint.”
Husker athletes have “a tremendous opportunity and responsibility” to represent the university both on and off the playing field, he added, and if compelled to express a political or social viewpoint, Schafer said he encourages them to find a venue outside of the team to do so."
On Monday, Rose-Ivey spoke at a team news conference about the decision to kneel ahead of the game on Saturday at Northwestern University, saying he and his teammates chose to pray for their country while the national anthem was performed.
The Husker linebacker from Kansas City, Missouri, said the decision to kneel was to bring attention to the “policies and laws that discriminate and hinder the growth and opportunity of people of color, low income people, women and other marginalized communities.”
“To make it clear, I am not anti-police, I’m not anti-military, nor am I anti-American,” he added. “I love my country deeply.”
Rose-Ivey said he chose to kneel to "make the world a better place for the next generation."
Daub, who spoke by phone Tuesday, indicated he has spoken with university leaders on the matter, but did not indicate with whom he has spoken or the nature of the conversation, saying only: “Time will tell.”
Asked if the university runs the risk of violating the student-athlete's rights guaranteed by the First Amendment if any rules are enacted, Daub reiterated that Husker athletes should not express political opinions while in uniform.
"Anything you do with respect to the First Amendment, you run a risk," Daub said. "Right or wrong, you can hide behind the First Amendment all day long."
In his statement, Schafer referred to comments made by former President George W. Bush last weekend at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., who said “the journey toward justice is still not complete.”
“Many African-Americans believe the justice system is tilted against them, and too many Americans of every skin color are victims of violence,” Schafer said. “These are real issues that cannot be ignored and should be addressed through conversations and positive actions in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, and across our states and nation.
“A starting point is to initiate dialogues regarding our differences and to instill in our young people respect for all life.”
Regents Tim Clare of Lincoln and Jim Pillen of Columbus did not return phone calls seeking comment.
UNL last year began addressing several issues surrounding diversity training for students, faculty and staff, and Chancellor Ronnie Green said at his state of the university address last week that early next year the university will take part in a “diversity mapping” led by a consulting firm.
Green declined to address the matter Monday, communications director Theresa Paulsen said, but did support the athletics staff.