DECATUR – The Millikin football team will again remain in the locker room until just before game time when the Big Blue takes on Augustana on Saturday at Frank M. Lindsay Field.
By doing that, the team will not be on the field for the national anthem – part of an agreement reached by the team after recent events.
“Our team came together and reached, hopefully, a conclusion that satisfied or at least can be respected by all parties,” Millikin football coach Dan Gritti said.
The decision followed the game at North Central on Sept. 24 when a handful of Millikin football players took a knee during the national anthem.
The players were following in the footsteps of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick sat down and then took a knee during the anthem for what he said was a silent protest to show support for minorities who were being oppressed in the United States and to take a stand against police brutality.
Since then, Kaepernick has been joined by players from the professional, collegiate and high school ranks.
Gritti said he did not see the players kneel at North Central but soon became aware of it and felt a dialogue was needed.
“I wanted to talk about it because I think of my role here as both a coach and an educator of young men,” Gritti said. “I wanted to make sure that everyone's point of view was expressed and that everyone's point of view was respected and that we stayed united and unified as a football team.”
Gritti is aware of the reaction to the players kneeling and to the choice to not be present for the anthem.
“We were sensitive to both sides of the issue and really felt it was important to try our best as a team to represent our beliefs, Millikin and the beliefs of people that might not agree with us but to take them into consideration as well,” he said.
The team first stayed in the locker room for the Oct. 1 homecoming game at Millikin and is expected to for the rest of the season.
Gritti said in a team statement sent through Millikin email that there will be time in the locker room to “engage in a moment of reflection to personally recognize the sacrifice of so many and renew our commitment to living up to those most important words: 'with liberty and justice for all.'”
In the same statement, Millikin President Patrick White wrote: “The University supports the right of our students to voice their beliefs and support issues important to them; however, the impact of various responses received to this action caused many to lose sight of the critical issues facing our university and our nation.”
To assist with that, the university said it will begin a series of discussion opportunities on “uncomfortable conversations.”