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Nebraska President Releases Pro-Speech Statement on Husker Players’ Anthem Protest

By September 28, 2016

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds released a statement this morning expressing strong support for free speech amid criticism of three Husker football players who knelt during the national anthem at their game on Saturday.

Citing both the First Amendment and a Nebraska Board of Regents policy that promises “the right to disagree, speak freely and be heard,” Bounds said he strongly supported both the rights of the three Husker players—Michael Rose-Ivey, DaiShon Neal and Mohamed Barry—to kneel in protest and the rights of others to express support or disagreement in return:

The same freedoms that protect their speech also protect our students’ speech – whether they’re kneeling during the national anthem, holding a flag on the field, praying after the game or expressing their opinion during class. All of that speech falls under the same category. All of it is protected by the First Amendment.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reported on calls to punish the players, quoting one member of the Nebraska Board of Regents, Hal Daub, who said the players “had better be kicked off the team” for their actions. (Daub has since denied making that statement.) The paper also quoted another regent who said he supported the students’ advocacy, but not the “venue” in which they chose to do it.

But President Bounds unequivocally supported the players’ rights to express themselves:

Our nation is dealing with difficult issues today, as we have for virtually our entire history. Each of us will react differently. College campuses, as much as any space, must be places where robust, even uncomfortable, debate is welcomed and encouraged. Our students, faculty and staff absolutely enjoy the right to participate in these dialogues in the manner they choose under the First Amendment and Board policy.

Bounds also shared the statement, and reiterated many of its sentiments, on Twitter:

Rose-Ivey, one of the players who knelt Saturday, spoke to the press about why he chose to kneel “in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and many other athletes across the country … who are standing together to use their various platforms to bring awareness about police brutality and the recent deaths of black men and women at the hands of police officers.”

Rose-Ivey said that “the enormous amount of hateful, racially-motivated comments we received from friends, peers, fans, members of the media and others about the method of protest … further underscore[s] the need for this protest and gives us just a small glimpse into the persistent problem of racism in this country and the divisive mentality of some Americans.”

“To make it clear,” he said, “I am not anti-police, I am not anti-military, nor am I anti-American. I love my country deeply and I appreciate the freedoms it professes to afford me.”

FIRE commends President Bounds for standing up for Nebraska students’ free speech rights.

Schools: University of Nebraska – Lincoln