The movement sweeping the NFL has made its way to ASU

ASU athletes reflect on the protest taking over the NFL

The players stand on the sidelines with their helmets tucked under their left arm and the opposite hand on their heart. A hush falls over the crowd and the anthem begins — but the players have taken a knee.

President Donald Trump recently made comments suggesting that he would like to see NFL owners fire players who kneel in protest. But athletes across the NFL continue to kneel and lock arms, though that may change soon.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to team owners on Oct. 10 that said the league believes "everyone should stand for the national anthem," and that it had a plan to address the political movement to be released next week. 

The initial protest started back in 2016, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the team’s bench during the national anthem for a preseason game.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way."

The issue has since found its way to ASU, where athletes are voicing their opinions on the matter.

ASU football’s head coach Todd Graham declined to comment on the issue in preparation for the team’s match against Stanford on Sept. 30. 

However, redshirt sophomore wide receiver John Humphrey was admittedly taken aback by President Trump’s calls to fire kneeling players.

“I would definitely express my concerns … that was totally uncalled for,” Humphrey said.

Although the Sun Devils are not present on the field during the anthem, redshirt sophomore tight end Tommy Hudson said if the issue arose, he would not turn his back on his teammates.

“I would definitely support my players – I wouldn’t want to alienate anybody or single anybody out,” Hudson said. “It’s a team game and you guys got to play for each other and the people next to you.”

Hudson said he supports the players' rights to participate in this act. 

“You’re not going to separate someone for their beliefs. Their beliefs are what make America great and that’s why we have to support them,” Hudson said. “If they want to take a knee during the national anthem that’s their right.” 

The controversial movement has split Americans into two groups: those who respect the kneeling  for protesting racial inequality and police brutality, and those who believe it disrespects the military and flag. 

Shamell Bell, an original member of the Black Lives Matter movement, wants the country to reflect on Kaepernick’s message.

“There needs to be an acknowledgement that this is not about Trump, this is not about the military,” Bell said.

Bell spoke at ASU on Sept. 20, but it's Marie Tillman, the widow of former ASU football player Pat Tillman, whose statement is making waves across campus.

"Those that serve fight for the American ideals of freedom, justice and democracy," Marie Tillman wrote in a statement to CNN. "They and their families know the cost of that fight. I know the very personal costs in a way I feel acutely every day. The very action of self-expression and the freedom to speak from one's heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for. Even if they didn't always agree with those views."

Bell said Tillman’s comments are “exactly what was needed and is needed.”

Some ASU athletes have taken up the protest themselves. Sophomore forward/midfielder Christina Edwards and senior forward Jazmarie Mader, two ASU soccer players, took a knee during the anthem prior to a match with UCLA on Oct. 5.

Mader later told Walter Cronkite Sports Network, “The fact of the matter is that the world is hurting. In soccer, when someone’s hurt, everybody takes a knee. I just feel that with everything happening in the world right now and such a platform that I have as a collegiate athlete, I should stand for equality and rights of everybody.”

However, Bell said the big picture isn't about the president or professional athletes. 

“For me I think the solution is to stand firm in having a similar and united vision,” Bell said.

ASU athletics declined to comment. 

Reach the reporter at or follow @Anthony_Totri on Twitter.

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