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Lobos plan to prevent a repeat of anthem protest

A Lobo football player is seen kneeling during the playing of the national anthem during halftime of the Sept. 30, 2017, UNM Lobos homecoming football game against the U.S. Air Force Academy. The anthem was played at halftime due to pregame weather delays. UNM has a plan to help avoid such a demonstration this year. Roberto E. Rosales/Journal

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

College football almost never needs to worry about players kneeling during the national anthem because the teams are usually in the locker room when it’s played before a game.

But it happened last Sept. 30 at Dreamstyle Stadium due to a number of unforeseen circumstances and lack of communication between UNM officials. And five Lobos decided spontaneously to kneel in protest of “injustice in America,” as one Lobo later said.

It won’t happen again, UNM officials are saying.

“We’ll have a plan,” said UNM football coach Bob Davie, who said his team “won’t be caught blindsided in fairness to our players, in fairness to our coaches, in fairness to our program.”

The Lobos host Incarnate Word Saturday in the 2018 season opener.

When the Lobos hosted Air Force last Sept. 30, the national anthem wasn’t played before the game as usual. Lightning in the area created the possibility that a scheduled 5:02 p.m. kickoff for the nationally televised contest could be delayed. In order to stay as close to the schedule as possible, the playing of the anthem was postponed until halftime.

Then, more lightning after one quarter created a delay of just over an hour. In another attempt to get back on schedule, halftime was reduced from the usual 20 minutes to five. The players never left the field and were there when the UNM band played the anthem.

Lobos Garrett Hughes, Kimmie Carson, Stanley Barnwell Jr., Michael Sewell Jr. and Elijah Lilly knelt. They said they did not have time to think, because of the makeshift performance, and reacted with protest of racial injustice in the U.S., just as NFL players have done since Colin Kaepernick began the movement in 2016.

“Racial inequality,” Lilly said last year, “is something that is real. … So, yeah, I wouldn’t regret (kneeling), and if it was to happen I would do it again and stand by it.”

Davie, however, wants to make sure weather delays won’t lead to a situation where his players will be on the field when the national anthem is played. Brad Hutchins, UNM’s deputy athletic director for external operations, says such a plan is in place.

“If we experience delays due to weather, then we will ensure that we provide the proper time for teams to warm up,” Hutchins said in an email. “Last year it was altered due to TV but that will no longer be the case. Regardless of any delay, we will provide time to complete both pregame and halftime activities.”

UNM officials said Barnwell, Sewell and Lilly, the three of the five who knelt and remain on the team, declined an interview for this story and that athletic director Eddie Nuñez was unavailable to comment. Nuñez apologized for the incident last year.

“My apology goes out to those who we offended in this process. … We’re going to help these young men and women support whatever cause they want to, but understanding there’s (other) ways to do it,” he said last year.

The victory over Air Force last Sept. 30 was the most recent for the program. UNM finished 3-9, losing seven straight.

“There were a lot of dynamics,” that caused the losing streak, Davie said in a response to a question if the incident affected the team for the rest of the season.

Davie did not want to elaborate about the incident, saying that it had already been dealt with last year, when he supported his players’ actions.

“They had every right to do that, legally, morally, ethically,” Davie said then.