Amherst College football players protest during anthem

  • Amherst College football players raise their fists or take a knee during the national anthem prior to the start of the football game with Hamilton, Saturday in Amherst. COURTESY MICHAEL ANTONELLIS

  • Amherst College football players raise their fists or take a knee during the national anthem prior to the start of the football game with Hamilton, Saturday in Amherst. COURTESY MICHAEL ANTONELLIS

  • Tommie Smith poses for a photo in Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. Smith and John Carlos voiced their support for Colin Kaepernick and other athletes staging national anthem protests, 48 years after they raised their gloved fists on the podium in a symbolic protest at the Olympics. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz) Sait Serkan Gurbuz

  • San Francisco 49ers Eric Reid (35) and Colin Kaepernick (7) take a knee during the National Anthem prior to their season opener against the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, in Santa Clara, CA. The Niners won 28-0. (Daniel Gluskoter/AP Images for Panini) Daniel Gluskoter

For the Gazette
Published: 9/29/2016 12:47:30 AM

Amherst College seniors Raheem Jackson and A.J. Poplin felt the need to make a statement on Saturday.

The football players and several of their teammates either went down on one knee or raised their fists during the playing of the national anthem prior to their game against Hamilton College at Pratt Field.

“There’s times when I really don’t feel loved by this country,” Jackson, a running back, said Wednesday. “I just felt compelled as a man, I can’t speak for anyone else, but as an adult I felt compelled to take a knee.”

The actions by the football players were similar to protests nationwide.

“I have a problem with the national anthem,” said Poplin, a wide receiver. “The last words are the land of the free and the home of the brave. And if I’m not feeling free, I’m going to have the bravery to stand up for what I truly believe in.”

Jackson and Poplin were among 13 Amherst players who protested during the national anthem.

The first to do so nationally was San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who originally sat down during the playing of the anthem during a preseason game. Kaepernick has since taken a knee to protest racial oppression in the U.S.

The protests have progressed throughout the NFL, and spread to colleges and high schools. Some athletes have taken a knee, while others have been raising their fists in the air, drawing comparisons to U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists on the Olympic podium in a political demonstration during the 1968 Mexico City Games.

The Amherst College players were the first to stage public protests in western Massachusetts.

“It is important that I take a knee,” Poplin said. “I want to use my platform as a football player to bring awareness to the situation, no matter what division you’re in.”

The protests have drawn mixed reactions and have sparked a national debate about race, the anthem, the flag and what it means to be an American.

Full support

The Amherst College players have received full support from coaches and administration.

“I fully support it, in terms of kids having the right to make that choice on their own,” head coach E.J. Mills said. “It’s a personal choice, and we support that choice. I am not concerned over what anyone thinks of it.”

Amherst College President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin and athletic director Don Faulstick issued statements of support.

“The students were exercising their right to freedom of expression, and we support that right,” Martin said.

“We support all of our student-athletes on campus and our opponents who choose to demonstrate their frustration with racial and social injustice issues in society,” Faulstick said.

Poplin and Jackson expressed their concerns about police brutality and the murder of innocent black men, as well as racial profiling and the marginalization of the black community.

Poplin cited concern for his father’s safety as his reason for protesting.

“I did it for my father. My dad fits the profile of a man that could be gunned down for no reason. He carries a gun lawfully under the concealed-carry laws of Connecticut,” Poplin said. “He may have a gun on him and his hands may be raised, but he could still be seen as an aggressive person or a threat. I don’t want him to be profiled as being dangerous by anybody as soon as they see his face or his frame.”

Jackson was concerned about recent shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

“That was really hurtful for me, but I want to see people do more than just taking a knee,” he said. “I want to see people not crossing the street when a black man walks toward them. I want people not to be fearful of black men that look like me, with tattoos and dreads. I want to see people in their language and in their actions not marginalizing black people, so that it’s acceptable for us to be killed by the police. Of course more people protesting the anthem would be dope, but I also want to see us not be marginalized and I want to see people take action in every facet of their life.”

Amherst Uprising

The players’ protests come on the heels of sit-ins at the Frost Library as well as the creation of the advocacy group Amherst Uprising less than a year ago.

Amherst Uprising was instrumental in the school dropping Lord Jeff as its mascot. It has also helped spread awareness of racial oppression on campus.

Poplin and Jackson were instrumental in staging the protests with the team.

“It wasn’t really about starting anything. Any type of activism, agitation, protest or just speaking out on injustice is a continuation of stuff that’s been happening for a long time,” Jackson said. “Everything that’s been happening here, the sit-ins last year, and all the civil rights movements, it’s all just a continuation.”

The protests have not created tension within the team.

“I am proud of the guys that took a knee or raised a fist with me,” Poplin said. “But I’m also proud of the guys that didn’t, that stood for the anthem, because they’ve created an environment where they made it feel comfortable for anybody that wanted to protest, to protest. I love this team because everybody is so open-minded.”

Amherst has its first away game at Bowdoin College in Maine this weekend and the plan for the anthem hasn’t changed.

“Doesn’t matter where I am,” Jackson said. “Put me in the whitest place, put me in the blackest place, my sympathy lies with black always.”


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