Signaling solidarity with national movement, Notre Dame students kneel during national anthem
Andrew Cameron | Monday, November 12, 2018
As usual, just before kickoff, the Notre Dame marching band played the national anthem at the start of Saturday night’s football game against Florida State. This time, however, as most of the crowd stood with their hands over their hearts, part of the student section refused to rise.
Instead, as the marching band began their performance of the national anthem, at least 60 students at the front of the junior student section knelt to show solidarity with victims of police violence and to protest racial profiling of African Americans.
The organizers of the protest, juniors Mary Katherine Hieatt, Durrell Jackson, Shawn Wu, Nicholas Ottone (Editor’s Note: Nicholas Ottone is a Scene writer for The Observer) and Brian Gatter, claimed to be continuing the movement started by ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked controversy when, beginning in 2016, he sat, and in later games knelt, during the national anthem played before his games.
“We’re doing a protest,” Jackson said. “It’s known as the national anthem protest, but we’re not really protesting the national anthem. We’re taking a stand against social injustice and police brutality. The movement was started by Colin Kaepernick.”
The idea for the protest began when Wu noticed Jackson and other African-American friends of his sitting during the anthem at an earlier game in the season, Wu said. Taking inspiration from his participation in the ‘Realities of Race’ seminar he took last spring, Wu contacted Jackson.
Together with Hieatt and fellow seminar participants Gatter and Ottone, the group decided to gauge interest by making a Facebook event. On the evening of Nov. 4, the five organizers created the private Facebook event “FSU Game Kneeling in Solidarity.”
“The decision that this was going to happen was contingent on how much support it had on the Facebook page,” Ottone said. “We realized the effectiveness of any kind of display would really depend on how much of a response we could get. Really, that turning point was Tuesday or Wednesday.”
The event description instructed participants to enter the stadium as soon as the gates opened, to fill the front of the junior student section and to kneel, holding hands with neighbors and crossing arms for the duration of the anthem. The description of the event on Facebook included that the goal of the protest was “[t]o visibly kneel in solidarity with victims of systemic racial injustice.”
Several of the organizers expressed dissatisfaction with student complacency and unwillingness to make political demonstrations on campus. Wu said part of the effectiveness of the form of the protest was its visibility.
“Oftentimes we can have these events that talk about race or diversity, or that challenge them, and oftentimes these events don’t reach people or people don’t go outside of their way to put themselves into these spaces,” Wu said. “I think one of the special things about this protest is that everyone sees it and everyone is going to consider it.”
Since Kaepernick’s kneeling began making national headlines in 2016, kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest has been widely criticized, including by former Notre Dame football head coach Lou Holtz, who said kneeling players were “hurting the sport.”
Asked how he would respond to criticisms that kneeling showed disrespect for the flag and for the military, Jackson said the protest was in line with American values.
“The troops fight for our right to protest, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “I respect the troops and everyone here in this stand respects the troops because we know they’re fighting for us. They’re not just fighting for our country to be protected, they’re fighting for our country to be better. It’s the part of the people who are here, who are not risking their lives every day, to fight for what’s better.”
Some students in the student section did not see or notice the demonstration, among them senior Matthew Piwko.
“I truly didn’t notice at all,” Piwko said. “I wasn’t paying very close attention but it wasn’t very obvious on the whole, even for someone who was looking for it.
“I think people can express their opinion any way they want. I don’t necessarily agree with it but it’s their right to kneel if they want to.”
Junior Loyal Murphy entered the student section early and stood near the kneeling students but did not participate. He said he saw the demonstration, but did not think it was very noticeable.
“When people are thinking about the Florida State game, they’re not thinking about the protest,” he said. “It didn’t make a big impact in my life. I didn’t really care. I was just like ‘Oh cool, well at least if they think they’re doing something, I guess that’s a good thing.’
“You could tell it was a section that went down on one knee, but I think it was too small and I don’t feel like it had any true impact to the game or to the issues in general.”
Junior Gregory Wall, who participated in the protest, described the demonstration as a success.
“I think on such short notice, it was successful, especially being able to convince 80 people to come an hour and 45 minutes early when it’s 35 degrees out and almost snowing and on the last game of the season, when everyone’s tailgating and everyone’s enjoying themselves, to be willing to go out and fight for what you believe in,” he said.