TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ― Asked about the national anthem protests taking place in the NFL, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday he’s “just a football coach” who hasn’t been following what’s going on.
That doesn’t mean the former NFL coach doesn’t have an opinion.
“To me, some of the things that we do in our country ― when I grew up ― they were unifying events, and it’s a little painful to see that those things are not so right now,” Saban said. “But I also respect everyone’s rights not to be censored in terms of the way they express their beliefs. I’m just a coach.”
Saban said he understands the power of protest, having witnessed anti-Vietnam War demonstrations when he was a student at Kent State in Ohio in 1970, where four students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard. Nine others were wounded.
“I don’t have the answers to all the questions,” he said. “I know that most good things come out of love and respect and compassion and unifying people. Most bad things come out of hate and dislike and deceit. Hopefully we can focus on the above and not the below.”
Alabama’s players are still in the locker room when the anthem is being played, just as most college football players throughout the country are. Players interviewed on Monday said the issues surrounding the protest do come up, but not in a way that would distract the team.
“I support what they’re doing because I understand and everything,” Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings said. “We’re not even out there when they’re doing the national anthem. But I support everything they’re doing and what they’re standing for.”
While the protests seem to be dividing the country in some aspects, locker rooms appear to be a safe haven for players and athletes.
Asked why he felt locker rooms were able to deal with social issues better than the rest of society, Saban mentioned two important factors.
“Respect and trust are two things that make a team what it is,” Saban said. “People respect and trust the principles and values of an organization, but they also respect and trust each other. And I think that because everybody has sort of bought into the same things ― you have the same goals, you have the same spirit in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re trying to do.
“I think it is a very unifying factor when everybody respects. And because you respect the people, you respect the individual differences as well. So I think that’s why they call it a team.”
Saban continued that it’s about about “togetherness.”
“Everybody is sort of trying to work toward the same standard,” Saban said. “Everybody is trying to support the other guy and help him be able to do that. So a lot of the things that make a good team are the very things that create a lot of togetherness, and I don’t think you have very good team unity and team spirit if you don’t have that kind of unifying force in the locker room.
“But I think it comes from respect and trust that gets developed because of everybody buying into the same goals and having the same aspirations for what they want to accomplish and what they want to do and how they support each other.”