In the 2016 National Football League (NFL) preseason, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick prompted a nationwide discussion when he chose to sit on the bench during a pre-game playing of the national anthem in order to protest police brutality.
Since Kaepernick’s initial decision to sit, and later to kneel, during the national anthem, the issue has inspired other athletes to take part in similar forms of protest. President Donald Trump has been openly critical of this trend. He said on Sept. 22 that NFL team owners should fire any players who kneel during the anthem. These protests have trickled down to Division III (D-III) athletics, although at this point, no students at Kenyon have decided to kneel during the national anthem.
Some Kenyon sports teams simply do not have the opportunity to do so. For example, the national anthem plays before the Lords football team runs onto the field, compared to the volleyball team, who are on the court for the anthem every match. Head Football Coach Chris Monfiletto declined to comment regarding the protests.
Although Kenyon student-athletes have not knelt or protested during the anthem, their North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) peers have participated. Several members of the Oberlin Yeowomen knelt during the national anthem prior to the Ladies volleyball team’s senior night on Oct. 6.
On Oct. 12, first-year quarterback Gyree Durante was dismissed from the Albright College football team for his decision to take a knee during the national anthem prior to a game. Like Kenyon, Albright College is a D-III private liberal arts school in Pennsylvania with about 1,700 students. The players were told prior to the game that there would be consequences for those who knelt during the anthem, according to a statement from an Albright College spokeswoman. Durante chose to kneel anyway.
In an interview with the Collegian, Durante shared his thoughts on his kneeling during the anthem. “The protest is about getting a discussion going and making people see what is wrong,” Durante said. “I do not encourage anyone to do anything they do not believe in, but if you wish to, then I salute one for standing their ground and using their rights as a citizen.”
Jules Desroches ’18, a defensive lineman on the Kenyon football team, thinks the protests are a good idea regardless of the level of athletics where they are performed. “To the extent that the protests are bringing attention to a divisive issue, the positive part is that the acts of protest forces us to question things,” Desroches said. “The fact that it comes up and we’re even talking about it is a sign that the protests are working.”
Desroches said while he has had plenty of conversations with other athletes about the protests, the football team as a whole has not talked about the issue.
Director of Athletics Peter Smith said that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the NCAC have no established policies at this time on what to do if a student-athlete decided to protest an athletic event.
“We would hope that a student wanting to demonstrate by kneeling during the anthem would inform their coach ahead of time to discuss ways to develop team unity while protesting,” Smith said.
President Sean Decatur expressed his support of these protests. “Protest is always controversial by definition and this is no different,” he said. “I think that athletes have the right to express themselves and express themselves on this issue in any way that they think is appropriate.”