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National anthem protest by 5 Lobos gains national notice

For the second time in 2½ weeks, the University of New Mexico football program has made national news.

And for the second time in that span, the news had nothing to do with what the Lobos did on the field.

Saturday night, during UNM’s eventual 56-38 victory over Air Force at Dreamstyle Stadium, five UNM players were seen kneeling in protest during a playing of the national anthem.

The kneel-downs, seemingly inspired by those seen recently by NFL players in protest of racial injustice, were viewed on the CBS Sports Network telecast of the game and reported by the Journal, the Associated Press and the Gazette of Colorado Springs.

Among the media outlets that picked up the story online were Sports Illustrated, USA Today, the Washington Post, Newsday, MSN, Bleacher Report and the San Francisco Chronicle. Several smaller newspapers also picked up the AP story.

On Sept. 13, the day before UNM’s game at Boise State, freelance journalist Daniel Libit reported that Davie was under investigation for alleged mistreatment of players and alleged mishandling of player drug testing.

The Journal has confirmed that an investigation of that nature is being conducted, but not that Davie is the target. Davie has said only that he will comment at the appropriate time.

The Lobos (3-2 overall, 1-1 in Mountain West Conference play) have an open date this weekend and don’t play again until Oct. 14 at Fresno State.

After the game Saturday, Davie said the bye week could hardly come at a better time.

“This has been a roller coaster, this early part of the season,” he said. “It’s a good time for us.”

Davie said the playing of the national anthem caught him by surprise.

College teams normally are not on the field during the playing of the national anthem before games.  But Saturday, in reaction to a 61 minute-long lightning delay between the first and second quarters, halftime was reduced to five minutes. Neither team left the field during the break.

Before play resumed, the UNM band broke into a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“It was kind of bizarre to me, how the whole thing kind of happened,” Davie said. “… I just wish I’d had a chance to talk to our team (beforehand).”

During the national anthem, five UNM players were seen kneeling: senior defensive end Garrett Hughes, senior safety Stanley Barnwell Jr., senior linebacker Kimmie Carson, junior safety Michael Sewell Jr. and sophomore cornerback Elijah Lilly.

In addition:

Junior linebacker Daquan Baker stood with his left fist upraised.

Several Lobos, among them senior center Blaise Fountain (a team captain), senior defensive end Kene Okonkwo,  junior defensive end Cody Baker and sophomore offensive tackle Israel Castellanos, stood while linking arms.

Senior linebacker Austin Ocasio was walking along the sideline with no acknowledgement that the anthem was being played.

None of the players involved were made available Saturday after the game.

Because of the bye week, the team will not practice again until Tuesday. Frank Mercogliano, UNM’s sports information director, said those players would be available after that practice should they agree to be interviewed.

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