NFL player protests during the national anthem have become part of the national political dialogue in recent days, with President Donald Trump criticizing those players who have knelt, or sat, during the anthem, and suggesting they should be “fired.”
Such protests haven’t spread to college football, but not necessarily because players lack the desire to protest during the anthem. Instead, college football teams – including the one at North Carolina – are often still in their locker room, instead of on the sideline, while the anthem is played.
Even so, UNC coach Larry Fedora on Monday considered the hypothetical: How would he handle the situation if his players did indeed have the chance to protest during the anthem?
“I haven’t talked about it with the team,” said Fedora, whose Tar Heels have lost three of their first four games after a 27-17 defeat against Duke on Saturday. “Here’s what I would say. And all I can do is give you my opinion on what I would do.
“What I would do is stand there proud. I think we have a great country. I think we’ve got a lot of problems in this country. I think we’ve had a lot of problems forever in this country. Everybody has a right, everybody has a right to protest whatever they want.
“That’s part of what this country is all about. They can choose to do it whenever they want to do it. Just understand there are consequences to everybody’s actions, no matter what they do, sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad.”
President Trump during a rally in Alabama on Friday disparaged players who have protested during the anthem. He referred to those players, collectively, as a “son of a b----,” and said that NFL team owners should remove protesting players from the field.
In response, more than 200 NFL players, according to the Associated Press, protested during the anthem before games on Sunday. One of them was Julius Peppers, the Carolina Panthers defensive end and former UNC All-American.
Peppers on Sunday didn’t join his teammates on the field during the anthem. He later told reporters he remained off the field in protest of Trump’s recent comments.
“This wasn’t about disrespecting the military, disrespecting the flag, police, first responders, none of that,” Peppers told reporters after the Panthers’ loss against the Saints on Sunday. “It wasn’t about that; it was about me making a decision as a man on my two feet…
“I just thought it was appropriate to stay in because we know what went on this week with the comments that were made by the president, and I felt like he attacked our brothers, my brothers, in the league. So I felt like it was appropriate to stand up with them and stay in the locker room.”
The president, meanwhile, continued to push the issue with a series of posts on Twitter over the weekend and on Monday. He wrote one, on Monday, that simply read, “#StandForOurAnthem.” He wrote another, on Sunday, that read, “Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!”
The NFL, and several owners, have spoken out in support of players’ freedom to express themselves. Asked on Monday whether he’d addressed with his team the controversy involving Trump, the NFL and the national anthem, Fedora said he “touched on that this morning.”
“I may address it with the team,” he said. “What I would do is address it with the seniors or the older guys first, talk with them, and see what their thoughts are and then talk about it as a team.”