COLUMBIA, S.C. – Frank Martin was not in the United States on Aug. 27 when Colin Kaepernick protested by sitting down during the national anthem. But the South Carolina basketball coach was proud when he heard what the San Francisco 49ers quarterback had done.
When the South Carolina basketball coach learned what the San Francisco 49ers quarterback had done in protesting what he believes to be injustices to many black Americans, he felt proud.
“When I found out what he did, I actually was proud that an athlete didn’t want to be vanilla and consumed with his own paycheck that he wouldn’t be willing to take a stance on what he thought was right and wrong,” Martin said. “I applaud celebrities that are willing to do things to bring attention to what’s wrong or to what’s right.
“I don’t like celebrities who like to go vanilla on the things that really matter. If they hide from taking stances, that means they are only concerned about their status, their paycheck and their future and not impacting the ones that don’t have the stage that they’re on.”
Martin was asked late in his Tuesday news conference if he would discipline a player for not standing during the national anthem. His answer spanned about eight minutes as he touched on a multiple of his viewpoints on the protest, the reasoning and more.
The answer to the original question was Martin would be disappointed if a player elected not to stand for the national anthem, but he would not discipline that player.
“If one of our players felt adamantly about things like that, I would understand,” Martin said. “In my conversations with them, preparing them for that moment in their life, I think we need to be united in what we do. I think we need to be united. I also put this on Twitter. You don’t beat hate with hate, you beat hate through education and love. You drown it with those words. You drown it with those actions. What I have told our players is be an agent of action. Let’s not talk about it. A lot of people talk the talk, but do you walk the walk. If there’s something that you don’t like, you have a platform. People will listen to you. Just make sure you are prepared for that powerful moment to express what you don’t like the right way.
“If they choose to not support the national anthem, that will be disappointing for me, but it’s their right. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with them. It’s their right. Anyone that questions that is out of their mind. That’s why this is the greatest country in the whole world.”
Martin, an American-born Cuban, touched on the difficulty of talking about oppression and celebrating Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro – a reference to Kaepernick wearing a shirt with an image of Castro and Malcolm X days after his initial protest.
He also talked about the passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, a Cuban who escaped and became a star baseball player. Martin mentioned a conversation he had with someone about how Fernandez, a person who was not born in the U.S., celebrated the country the way he did, while others do not embrace it.
Through those conversations, he came to understand there is a difference between having roots in being oppressed and having gotten away from the people who oppressed you, in the case of Fernandez and many others.
“In essence, it would be hard for me to go back to Cuba even if it was a democracy, if Castro was still in charge and be happy to live in that democracy,” Martin said.
Above it all, Martin stressed the importance of being educated when you are trying to express your thoughts and beliefs. It is not about what is popular on social media, he said, but about being educated.
When Martin returned to the country in the days following Kaepernick’s protest, he discussed it with his players. He asked them if they felt they had been held back by their country and no one raised their hands.
“Like I told our players, this country doesn’t hold you back,” Martin said. “Some of us have more obstacles in front of us than others. But nobody is grabbing us from behind. Some of us have to learn how to clear more hurdles to get where we want to go than others. Others don’t have hurdles. Some of us have more.
“Some people run 100-meter dash, some people run 100-meter hurdle race. That’s the difference here in this country. What we have to figure out a way how to unite because it’s what makes us great, that we’ve all got a platform to speak, to express ourselves. If we have the courage to get over the hurdles, this country opens its doors to us.”