By Will Burchfield
In a story that continues to gain legs, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem before his team’s game on Friday night in protest of what he feels is maltreatment of racial minorities in the United States.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL.com. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
On Monday, Lions coach Jim Caldwell and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus commented on the matter and reached similar conclusions: Kaepernick’s message — though legal — could have been delivered differently.
“Well, my reaction is what he did is not against the law,” Caldwell said. “He’s a young man that’s expressing a feeling that he had. I don’t necessarily agree with what he does, but the fact of the matter is he’s open to express himself. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion in this country, that’s the great thing about this country.”
Ausmus — who admitted he doesn’t feel strongly about the matter either way — more or less agreed with Caldwell.
“I understand that [Kaepernick’s] trying to bring light to an issue. I don’t know if I would have used the same format,” he said.
Should one of their own players feel the need to make a political statement, both coaches said they would allow it, but they’d expect that player to articulate his opinion in a fair-minded manner.
“We just make sure that they’re looking at it and taking a second to pause and look at it from both sides. If they feel strongly about something I certainly don’t mind that they speak their mind,” Caldwell said.
“One of the things that I think often times that people forget about is these guys are human,” he added. “These guys are also living in this society, these guys also have societal issues that they’re dealing with and they have opinions. I think that what we don’t want to do is retort that. What we do want to do is just make certain that they’re well informed in terms of whatever position they take.”
Ausmus echoed this sentiment.
“I would prefer they tell me about it ahead of time, but if they had something they felt strongly about and they explained it to me rationally I probably wouldn’t have an issue with it,” he said.
Asked how he would react if a Lions player sat during the national anthem, Caldwell reiterated his open-minded stance.
“We’d discuss it, we’d talk about it. We’d see exactly what his thoughts were and are, but the fact of the matter is what we won’t do is we won’t mandate an action for him. We won’t tell him to stand up or tell him to sit down or whatever that might be, because obviously he hasn’t done anything that’s against the law,” the coach said.
University of Michigan Football coach Jim Harbaugh also opined on the matter on Monday, saying he supports Kaepernick’s motivation but not his method of action. Harbaugh coached Kaepernick for four years when they were both with the 49ers.