UMassD football stands as one

UMass Football stands as one by Sebastian Moronta
By Sebastian Moronta, Staff Writer

September 2, 2016. A hush falls over Alumni Field at Mount Ida College as the Corsairs and the Mustangs prepare to face off in the 2016 season opener.

Both teams stand for the national anthem, but one player rests on his knee: Emmanuel “Abbi” Bamgbose.

The following game, home against Hartwick, two players kneel during the anthem. Abbi is joined by team captain Michael Slaughter, and both will continue to kneel at every game for the rest of the season. As each week passes, more and more players join in the silent protest, but it doesn’t receive very much attention until last year’s homecoming game.

Some players emerged from the locker rooms clad in all black, jerseys rolled up at their waist to reveal messages on the front and backs of their shirts.

They read “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” What began as a simple silent protest had now landed the Corsairs on the front page of The Standard Times, and added them to the growing number of athletic institutions across the country whose players have taken to kneeling to protest racial injustice.

This season, before most of campus had hardly arrived for the year, players gathered in the locker rooms to discuss how they would proceed.

After a long back and forth, the team agreed to stand together. The Torch spoke with the O-Line Coordinator and Admissions office fixture Josh Sylvester, who began the discussions this year. “We felt that when some players take a knee, that that was very strong and it showed a lot of courage, and we wanted to send a more powerful message.”

Since game one this year, at the start of every game, the Corsairs gather on the one-yard line, standing in unison, shoulder to shoulder with helmets resting at their feet. At last week’s homecoming game, players locked their arms together in response to the recent developments in the news.

“The President has just inflamed the issue,” said Head Coach Mark Robichaud, commenting on the President’s comments towards the NFL regarding players kneeling during games.

Trump called for NFL owners to fire players who “Disrespect our flag” by kneeling during the anthem, calling them “sons of bitches” and continuing his disdain for them on twitter later that day.

Robichaud and the rest of the coaching staff have taken the side of the players, throwing their full support and commitment behind the players protesting on the field.

Robichaud has a son, a recent West Point grad who informs his view on the issue. “One of the reasons my son joined the military was to protect our rights, our freedoms, so I certainly understand. These kids absolutely have that right to take a knee, and I’m going to support that.”

Sylvester is a big advocate for the player’s right to protest. “As a Cape Verdean coach of these young players, I’m so proud of them…Part of college is learning to express yourself. I don’t mind that they use the field, my point is that it should be a unified message.”

Some of the criticisms players face for protesting during the anthem include that they are disrespectful towards their country and toward service members who fight to defend the flag. Many want players to “stick to football” and others take their criticism much further. But the players don’t see kneeling as disrespectful.

“I have family members in the military that I discussed this with, and they supported me, they supported what I was kneeling for,” said Slaughter. “When it comes to football, kneeling is a sign of respect. If someone’s hurt, you’re taking a knee, making sure you’re praying for your brother. I think it’s fine to silently protest, without violence, just get the point across.”

Michael Slaughter is a senior operations management major, and a captain on the team. Emmanuel “Abbi” Bamgbose is a junior sociology and anthropology major, and both see no end to the protest.

“I was asked a lot at the end of the season if I would stop taking a knee. The answer was no…when justice is served? Maybe.”

Photo Courtesy: Sebastian Moronta


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