(Journal readers comment on players kneeling here.)
Several University of New Mexico football players knelt during the national anthem at halftime of Saturday’s home game against Air Force, following the lead of many NFL players this season.
It is believed they are the first college football players to do so.
Players who knelt, as identified through video from the CBS Sports Network broadcast, Journal photos and by verifying with UNM’s online roster with player numbers and photos, were: senior defensive end Garrett Hughes, senior safety Stanley Barnwell, sophomore cornerback Elijah Lilly and junior safety Michael Sewell. A UNM spokesman said Kimmie Carson also knelt.
Austin Ocasio, a senior linebacker, was observed walking around during the anthem. It is believed one or two other UNM players were kneeling, but they could not be identified.
Normally, college players are still in the locker room when the national anthem is performed before games. But because of weather-related delays both before and during the game, the anthem was not played prior to the opening kickoff. Instead, it was played at halftime, which was reduced to five minutes. Because of the reduced length of the halftime period, both teams stayed on the field rather than returning to the locker rooms as normal.
Lobos coach Bob Davie said he hadn’t been made aware that the national anthem would be played at halftime, let alone that any of his players would choose to kneel.
In fact, he said, he and Air Force Troy Calhoun had agreed that no national anthem would be played at all.
“I’d like to have the opportunity to visit with our players, talk about what our stance would be, unified as a football team,” Davie said. “I kind of got shocked by that.
“I wouldn’t want to judge or have too much of a critique, at least speaking from my standpoint, as far as a total football team. Because in fairness to them, I never really talked to them about it.”
The Journal requested that at least one of the players who knelt be made available for interviews. None appeared. Sports information director Frank Mercogliano said he passed on that request to football operations director Brian DeSpain but didn’t know if the request reached Davie.
Junior linebacker Alex Hart, a team captain, said he wished the players had known beforehand that the national anthem was to be played before the second half started.
“Just so we could talk about everyone’s opinion,” he said. “… That’s important to this team. We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable doing whatever they believe in, and I respect that.
“But I do wish we could have talked about that as a team.”
No Air Force player was seen kneeling.
Calhoun said he did not object to the UNM players’ actions.
“That’s their right,” he said. “They live in a country where they’re allowed to do that.”