Football players for Michigan and Michigan State along with a group of students at North Carolina raised their fists during the national anthem Saturday.
The gestures at the games come following a week punctuated by riots in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the killing of an unarmed Black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Michigan football players raise their fists up in protest during the National Anthem, before an NCAA college football game against Penn State, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Junfu Han/The Ann Arbor News via AP)
Three Michigan State players — Delton Williams, Kenney Lyke and Gabe Sherrod — held their right fists in the air while standing on the sideline before the No. 8 Spartans hosted No. 11 Wisconsin.
“Whether somebody salutes, puts the hand over their heart or does something else, everybody has a choice to make,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio added after the Spartans’ 30-6 loss. “Our young people are in college, and I can promise you one thing, that when the flag is presented in some respect, I guess it becomes much more important now. It’s not just, oh by the way, we’ll just stand for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’
“All I can do is try and lead the best way I can, and be positive and accepting to our football team and our players,” the coach added. “When we come together after the national anthem, we come together with solidarity, and I think that’s what’s important.”
Several players for No. 4 Michigan also had their fists up before facing Penn State in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Among them were Khalid Hill, Mike McCray, Devin Bush, Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Jourdan Lewis.
Most college conferences play the anthem before the teams take the field. The Big Ten is among the exceptions.
The University of Michigan is 6 miles from Eastern Michigan University, where chanting students marched on the field Friday night after the school’s 27-24 victory over Wyoming. The students were protesting racist graffiti on the campus earlier in the week.
“We have great respect for our students engaged in the constructive efforts underway to address the issues we face,” Eastern Michigan President James Smith said in a statement Saturday.
Before North Carolina hosted Pittsburgh, students wearing black shirts remained seated with fists raised. Some 60 to 70 Black and White students participated.
The protests date to the refusal by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to stand for the anthem before NFL preseason games. He cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons. Since then, other athletes across the country have made their own protests.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was Kaepernick’s coach for four seasons in San Francisco. Last month, Harbaugh said he supported Kaepernick’s motivation to speak out but took exception to his method.
Saturday’s gestures came a day after it was announced that Tommie Smith and John Carlos will join the U.S. Olympic team at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama. The raised-fist salutes by the American sprinters on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics became a political flash point.
U.S. Olympic Committee Scott Blackmun has asked them to serve as ambassadors as the federation tries to bring more diversity to its ranks.