Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 23, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 OCT. 23, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED B lurry, gray, seismic — there is no perfect way to describe the line between appropriate and excessive as so many values and beliefs to- day intersect with sports and teams like never before. For when it comes to freedom of speech, college student-ath- letes deserve to be heard, and the platform they've earned is a high one to speak from. But these many individual players also represent a single team and an entire university, so strik- ing a balance between message and mayhem is proving to be a challenging one for coaches around the country, including here at Notre Dame. As pre-game protests gain increased attention because of a stand — or in many cases, a knee — that professional athletes are taking during the national anthem, college coaches are being forced to devise their own guidelines and protocols on what's acceptable with these demonstra- tions gaining traction in amateur venues. "We're in a college environment, a college setting, and we want our young men to be free thinkers and have the ability to voice their opin- ions," Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly said. "That's what college is all about. "But we're in a team structure, and so we have to be able to get together." This certainly isn't the first time the topic of player protest has come up at Notre Dame. In a controversial move from De- cember 2014 that made national headlines and probably drew more attention and blowback than what was anticipated or wanted, the Notre Dame women's basketball players all wore black "I CAN'T BREATHE" t-shirts during their pregame warm- ups. The demonstration was organized to protest the death of Eric Garner, the 43-year-old man who uttered those three words before his death a few weeks earlier while being re- strained by New York City Police in what was described as a chokehold. The display from the Notre Dame players caused some Irish fans to turn in their season tickets and drew a strong reaction from local law enforcement. But in a credit to the young women, their protest was dis- cussed in advance and performed with full support from the university. "That's what we want our kids do- ing," Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick said during the after- math. "If all we're doing is teaching them to play sports, then we're miss- ing the boat." Which takes us back to the de- bate on the balance between what is enough versus what is too much? Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey said he talks freely, but always collectively, with his play- ers about their reactions and feelings to divisive current events. "How can we be part of the solu- tion?" Brey explained as the consis- tent sidebar to these discussions. Brey's bunch became at least a small part of the solution locally last October by conducting a basketball practice with law enforcement of- ficers in front of some curious chil- dren at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center in South Bend. The gathering was designed to cel- ebrate the officers' sacrifice and dedi- cation during a divisive period around the country between cops and civilians. "Instead of protesting," Brey explained, "how about we do something constructive and try to bring the community and police together." Most college football stadi- ums, including Notre Dame's, perform the national anthem before the teams take the field. The Big Ten is an exception and, in a growing trend, play- ers from around the league gather and protest, including several University of Michigan players who hold their right fists in the air during pregame patriotic tributes. Others kneel, some sit. "This is something that's not going away, it's going to keep happening," Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "So I'm not going to worry about it." Harbaugh's right. These protests are only going to grow and become more prevalent, and the challenge put on college coaches becomes if, when and how to manage them. Harbaugh is staying clear and let- ting his players make their personal statements without interference from staff and administration. Other schools, such as Division II Colorado Christian University, have banned their student-athletes from kneeling during the anthem, saying such demonstrations show "disre- spect towards our country." The messages are as many as the methods to deliver them. There are no right answers, and no wrong ones either. With so much to sort through maybe the best piece of wisdom came from Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffett McGraw in a simple 20-word Tweet. "Time to stop focusing on HOW people should or shouldn't protest and talk about WHAT and WHY they are protesting." ✦ When Freedom Of Speech Falls On A Coach's Desk UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at When divisive current events happen, men's basketball head coach Mike Brey always asks his team: "How can we be part of the solution?" PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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