Over 50 ONU students, faculty and staff members talked about what they thought it meant to kneel for the national anthem during the Office of Multicultural Development’s monthly ‘Cultural Conversation Hour,’ held at the chapel.

The conversation was led by LaShonda Gurley, Director of Multicultural Development, as she asked those in attendance their opinion on various topics related to the issue. She started off by asking the audience how they defined “patriotism,” discussed the extra (and often unknown verses) of the national anthem and asked whether or not comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump concerning the NFL were necessary.

“This is the most simplistic yet most complicated topic we’ve had here during my tenure,” Gurley said of the Conversation Hour.

By discussing the controversial topic at this month’s Cultural Conversation Hour, Gurley hopes that it gave students a chance to voice their opinion on the issue and have conversations that they might not have previously felt they could have.

“I hope that from today’s conversation, the participants will have a better understanding of the recent protests in the NFL, the understanding of the original intent as to why Kaepernick began — I call it a ‘movement’ — in the NFL, and then hopefully it will bring voices together that might not necessarily talk to each other,” Gurley said. “We’re hopeful that this will start the collaboration that normally might not exist in other arenas.”

The discussion was lively and well-attended, with students and faculty sharing their views for nearly an hour over lunch last Tuesday.

“I think it was a really good discussion. I think everyone got what they felt out,” junior Dominique Redmon said.

“I would say it was kind of one-sided — I wish someone would have maybe brought up the other side a little bit more, just so we could get a better understanding of this topic. But I think we really just grasped the concept that what’s going on now, with our football players kneeling.”

Among a diverse breadth of students in the chapel last Tuesday were president Dan DiBiasio, head football coach Dean Paul and several other faculty members.

DiBiasio voiced his opinion on Trump’s comments on Sept. 22, when Trump said that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem and that they should respond to kneeling by saying, “Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, he’s fired.”

DiBiasio said that Trump’s comments “didn’t seem necessary,” and he referenced an open letter written by Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr in Sports Illustrated, where the NBA coach advised Trump to be “above the fray,” and not “causing the fray,” given his position.

While some time was spent discussing Trump, the majority of last Tuesday’s conversation seemed centered around the idea that people have lost
sight of why NFL players are actually kneeling.

When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during the national anthem at the beginning of the 2016 season, he was doing so to protest police brutality and racial inequality in America. Many NFL players have said this season that they are kneeling for the same reason. However, many in the audience last Tuesday believed that people had taken the protest’s meaning far out of context.

“The conversation has kind of slid off to the side of where it was supposed to be,” Redmon said. “It’s more about the troops, and it’s moved to disrespecting the good troops and policemen, instead of focusing on the police brutality and inequality in this country.”

Dr. Adriane Thompson-Bradshaw, vice president of student affairs, shared a similar sentiment.

“It seems to me like the central issue seems to have gotten lost,” Thompson-Bradshaw said.

Last Tuesday’s discussion came two weeks after university administration revealed the school’s official stance on the issue, as ONU athletic director Tom Simmons said that the school would be open to student-athletes performing civil protest during the anthem as long as “it is respectful and not a distraction.”

“It’s our civil right. People have the right to a peaceful protest, and you don’t infringe on [it]. It’s part of America,” Simmons said. “So, if someone has something they want to say and they do it appropriately, then they say it.”

This newspaper reached out to senior student-athletes to ask if they felt that they would be safe kneeling during the national anthem at ONU, and whether or not they felt the campus community would support their actions if they decided to do so. Their responses varied greatly.

“While ONU may show support of our views, the parents, alumni, fans and supporters may not,” senior football player Devonne Johnson said. “I believe that the views throughout the team and coaches would vary, but I do not think our community would support them if they were different from theirs.”

To this date, there have been no known instances of kneeling during the national anthem by an ONU athlete, according to Simmons. Players from multiple NFL teams have continued to perform civil protest during the national anthem in the weeks following Trump’s comments.

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