As the national anthem played before Georgetown football’s team (3-0, 1-0 Patriot League) Homecoming Day game against the Columbia Lions (0-2), 11 members of the Blue and Gray knelt on one knee.
Their move follows the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who sparked national discussion when he took a knee during the national anthem before a preseason game Sept. 1 in protest against racial injustice against the black community and other individuals of color.
The 11 players were freshman defensive back Ryan White-Boyd, freshman wide receiver Michael Dereus, freshman cornerback Leon Agee, sophomore cornerback Ramon Lyons, sophomore linebacker J’V’on Butler, sophomore cornerback Jethro Francois, junior cornerback Larenz Griggs, junior cornerback Jelani Williamson, junior defensive lineman Kendall Catchings and junior safety and co-captain David Akere.
Since Kaepernick kneeled at the Sept. 1 game, many athletes around the country — both professional and collegiate — have followed suit to voice their displeasure with the mistreatment of minorities in the United States.
Three days after the Hoyas’ 17-14 win over the Lions, the team reflected on their action as a purposeful display of solidarity in an interview with The Hoya.
“We just felt like with everything that’s been going on in our situation in the nation, all the sentiments that we felt, we talked about it and had a discussion with a few of the guys on the team and we felt like it would be right for us to kneel,” Akere said. “We just felt like it would serve a purpose for us to kneel, and just represent what we’ve gone through and raise awareness and making a platform to start a conversation about what’s going on.”
Francois said the team recognized the need for action in a tumultuous time.
“We still love our country and everything, but we felt like that was something that had to be done,” the sophomore cornerback said.
Akere stressed that taking a knee does not signify disrespect against the country. He and Francois, along with their teammates, had discussed how to best express themselves prior to this weekend before settling on the Columbia game as the time to speak out.
“We’ve been having this discussion with a few of our teammates and around the campus. The campus has been really supportive about being able to discuss and have a free, open campus because Georgetown is about diversity and inclusivity, so we’re working on that,” Akere said.
The team’s solidarity did not end with Saturday’s game. According to Akere, the team has the collective ability to effect change on a larger scale beyond the front gates of campus.
“I really truly believe that God is blessing us to do something that we’ve never done before, which is equality for all people,” Akere said. “It’s raising awareness and raising conscientiousness, which is important and also prevalent, trying to have a society that’s going to work together and function together, because I believe if you don’t stand for something, then you can fall for anything.”
With 11 players uniting in one demonstration, the fact that the majority of the roster did not could potentially undermine team chemistry. However, Akere also said the football team’s unity did not and would not falter.
“We’re a big brotherhood, that’s what we consider ourselves on the football field so if you may not agree exactly with what we’re doing, you’re still going to support us,” Akere said. “We all have the freedom to do what we want, to protest freedom of speech, and with our family, our brotherhood, our team, we believe that we are all so close together, we have such a loving, such a strong bond that it’s something you can’t negate.”
Georgetown Football Head Coach Rob Sgarlata wholeheartedly supported his players’ decision, echoing Akere’s statements on the oneness of the team.
“The fact that my guys are aware enough to understand what’s going on around in the world, and have enough of a perspective on things to have their own ideas and voice those ideas through kneeling at the anthem, to me, is really important,” Sgarlata said. “I think that this is a space here on campus where it’s an educational place, it’s a place for discussion.”
The discussion that the football team perpetuated has already extended far past the sidelines. Athletic Director Lee Reed said he appreciated the Hoyas’ expression of their opinions.
“We respect thoughtful, passionate and responsible engagement by our students on and off the field,” Reed said in a comment to sports information. “We share a commitment to the common good and we encourage our student-athletes to express their views in a respectful manner.”
In spite of the controversy surrounding the national anthem protests, Sgarlata gave his backing to his team — a program he has buoyed as it endured a frustrating run of seasons.
“I support my guys 100 percent with what they’re doing. Our players, they may not agree with the actions, but I think that everybody agrees with the same message that we need to come together. Our football team is one of the most diverse organizations on this campus, and I think it comes from the leadership,” Sgarlata said. “I’m really proud of them, with the way that they have handled themselves and been unified with this.”
The debate that has captured the nation’s attention since Kaepernick’s initial protest has reached Georgetown, and is here to stay. Akere, Francois and the other nine players plan on taking a knee during the anthem for the rest of the season, or until they feel substantial progress has been made toward equality in the country.