While it remains controversial on the national level for professional athletes to take a knee during the national anthem, the reactions of UNM leadership and student groups to our five football players who knelt during the Homecoming game have been largely supportive.
When asked about the situation, UNM interim President Chaouki Abdallah said, “I support all rights spelled out in our Constitution. I also agree with the statement from Air Force’s football coach Troy Calhoun.” Abdallah then quoted Calhoun who said, “That's their right. They live in a country where they're allowed to do that…There's no law, and there should be no law and it should be your choice.”
While Abdallah did not respond to a follow-up question concerning whether the athletes might be sanctioned in any way for their actions or whether UNM might try to create a future policy about athletes taking a knee, it seems unlikely that the president would support such a move.
The Associated Students of the University of New Mexico also issued a statement which said, “As the representation of the UNM student body, ASUNM supports all students exercising the peaceful exchange of ideas and viewpoints.”
More specifically, the statement issued by ASUNM Director of Communication Noah Michelsohn, said, “This is an issue receiving national attention, and we will continue to support students as they peacefully express their feelings, no matter their stance. We are proud to have a campus climate where students feel safe taking a stand without fear of repercussions.”
UNM’s Graduate and Professional Student Association indicated that they could not take a stand on the issue as a group, because individual opinions varied. However, several prominent members of the organization expressed personal opinions on the issue.
GPSAs Chief of Staff Trajuan Briggs, who was also a UNM football player, said, “As a former Lobo student-athlete, I think it's my duty to speak on the topic...It’s not about disrespecting the flag, it’s about racial injustice.” He said that if he were still playing for the Lobos, he believes he would have taken a knee as well.
“This is the most peaceful way to address the issue,” Briggs said. “As long as you are not hurting people, that’s the type of protest that we need.”
He said that people often tell him, “‘Just stick to sports and stay out of politics.’ (But) you can’t separate sports and politics. Everyone has an opinion.”
GPSA Grants Chair and Public Administration Graduate Student Association President Sally Barker also issued a personal statement which said, “Civil protest is a cornerstone of American democracy, and I applaud these young men for using their platform to peacefully demonstrate their beliefs...These young men are more than just football players; they are students at this University, and they should be encouraged to participate in a broader conversation about any topic they choose.”
Additional individuals were contacted in UNM’s Department of Military Science and Leadership and in UNM’s Faculty Senate but have not replied.
Aaron Cowan is a volunteer sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers volleyball and men's and women's golf. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AaronTCowan.