Three Nebraska football players — linebackers Michael Rose-Ivey and Mohamed Barry and defensive end DaiShon Neal — kneeled during Saturday's national anthem at Northwestern. Monday, each talked to the media about his decision, with Rose-Ivey — the senior who talked to his teammates before the game about his decision to kneel — reading a lengthy statement at the podium.
Quoting the Bible, Dante and Martin Luther King, among other sources, an emotional Rose-Ivey — pausing occasionally to drink water — read for seven minutes. He told the media he kneeled during the anthem in "solidarity with Colin Kaepernick," the 49ers quarterback who is kneeling during the anthem to protest police violence and injustice against African-Americans.
"As we looked at what's been going in this country — the injustices that have been taking place primarily against people of color — we all realize there is a systematic problem in America that needs to be addressed," Rose-Ivey's statement began. "We felt it was our duty to step up and join the chorus of athletes in the NFL, the WNBA, college and high school using their platforms to highlight these issues. We did it understanding the implications of these actions.
"But what we didn't expect was the enormous amount of hateful, racially motivated comments we received from peers, fans, members of the media and others about the method of protest. While you may disagree with the method, these reactions further underscore the need for this protest and give us just a small glimpse into the persistent problem of racism in this country and the divisive mentality of some Americans. To make it clear, I'm not anti-police, I'm not anti-military, nor am I anti-American. I love my country deeply and I appreciate the freedoms that it professes to afford me."
Rose-Ivey, who recently graduated from Nebraska, said he's traveled outside the United States and knows other countries have more hardships. Additionally, he said, he understands that he, as a college athlete, has it better than some other Americans do.
"Unfortunately, I cannot turn a blind eye to injustice," Rose-Ivey said. "As Dr. King once said, 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"
Rose-Ivey said he felt "obligated to stand up and bring awareness" that are not limited to police action, but "also the policies and the laws that discriminate and hinder the growth and opportunity of people of color, low income people and women."
He said he'd received criticism from fans — including racial slurs — since kneeling for the anthem.
"Some believe DaiShon, Mohamed and myself should be kicked off the team or suspended, while some said we deserved to be lynched or shot just like the other black people who have died recently," Rose-Ivey said. "Another believed that because we didn't stand for the anthem that we should be hung before the anthem the next game. These are actual statements we received from fans. People assume this is just Internet talk but I can tell you from my experience at this very institution, and visiting other college campuses in the last four years that racism is still a problem and must be addressed."
Rose-Ivey said he appreciated the support of teammates and coach Mike Riley for their willingness to let him talk to the team about his stance and willingness to let him carry it out.
He said he was hurt by some of the comments and criticisms he saw and received on social media after the game. The bus ride home from the airport was difficult, he said.
Rose-Ivey initially did not want to take any kneeling-related questions from the media after he read his statement, but he was willing to answer questions about Riley and teammates.
At one point during his statement, Rose-Ivey said "America is a great place" for its freedoms.
Neal, an Omaha Central grad, said he wants more equality for African-Americans.
"I'd like to see equality for minorities, as well as whites in America," Neal said. "With cops killing blacks, a lot of protests, Black Lives Matter, a lot of chaos going around. You've got to pick your poison. You want a peaceful protest or you want a violent protest? Violence is only going to lead to more violence, killing will lead to more shootings. In my eyes, I want a more peaceful protest. I want people to understand that we're more than just being a football player, more than just an African-American who plays sports. People think: Oh, he's an African-American who plays sports, he's living the good life. I mean, yeah, I'm getting a free education, et cetera, et cetera, but I don't think people understand the challenges I face as a African-American man outside of football. After Saturday, I just go back to being a normal black kid in America who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska."
Barry said he's received "way more positive" feedback from Husker fans thus far than negative.
"Like 15 positives to the negative," Barry said. "Our fans, they agree with it, they see the injustice, and for the most part they support us. The biggest thing isn't that they agree or disagree with why we did, it's 'oh, why you did during the national anthem?' It's the perfect time to let it be known. What's another time when people would actually talk about it? If we did it during practice, no one would talk about it. If it was any other particular moment — but the national anthem, that glorifies America and all that, it's the perfect time."
Barry said he wouldn't have kneeled if coach Mike Riley had told the team he didn't want them to do so. Barry said Rose-Ivey told him before he talked to the team about the decision that he was going to kneel.
"He's an activist," Barry said of Rose-Ivey. "He's a football player but he's an activist, too. He's a citizen and he's real vocal, and he's a leader. That's who Michael is. He's not phony, he's not fake, he's not following nothing. I know he did it because he truly believes in his heart this is not right."
Barry was OK with the response he got from fans.
"They care about me as an individual," Barry said. "They care about the minority and all that. I'm more happy with being here now than ever."