Penn State head coach James Franklin says he has “strong feelings” about the controversy over protests by NFL players during the national anthem and President Trump’s strong criticism of them, and that the focus on embracing differences should be more from a positive angle than a negative one.
In the middle of his weekly Tuesday teleconference in which he reviewed the thrilling 21-19 win over Iowa and looked ahead to Indiana on Saturday, Franklin was asked about Trump’s statements last week that any NFL player kneeling during the national anthem should be fired, and if he spoke with his players about them.
“As you can imagine, I want my focus to be on Indiana as much as I possibly can,” he said. “I do have strong feelings as a United States citizen. I do have strong feelings as a college football coach and I have very strong feelings as an African-American. So to me, those conversations and those feelings are personal, they’re private to our team.”
Franklin believes in the right of his players to express their opinions on social topics as long as they’re thoughtful about them and respect their teammates’ views.
“I love how our guys are handling it. We’re able to have really good discussions as a family. There’s guys that are voicing their opinions with their teammates face-to-face. There’s guys that are voicing their opinion socially, and the thing that’s probably most important for me is that the guys don’t react and make an emotional decision, or have an emotional outburst, that they take their time and they think it through and are thoughtful and express themselves and articulate.”
Franklin mentioned freshman defensive back Lamont Wade, who has gone on YouTube with a nearly five-minute video in which he talks about First Amendment rights, police killings and being harassed and called racial slurs just for being black.
“I’m proud of him because he’s spent time thinking about what’s on his heart and what’s on his mind, and expressing himself and being thoughtful and being articulate,” he said. “To me, that’s what college athletics is all about, that’s what Penn State’s all about, that’s what our country is supposed to be all about – embracing differences, appreciating that our differences is what makes our country so strong and so great and so wonderful.
“That’s probably not being emphasized enough. We’re focused on our differences from a negative perspective and we really should be focusing on our differences from a positive perspective, and it’s what made this country so powerful and so wonderful and so special for so many people for so many years.”
Franklin said he spoke with his team at length last year after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt on the sideline during the national anthem. He said he discussed similar issues this season with the team’s leadership council.
“I think it’s important for our team to have those kinds of discussions and kind of be involved with what’s going on,” said senior tight end Mike Gesicki, a member of the council. “Ultimately we have the kind of guys on our team that all have different opinions and everybody should be given the opportunity to express themselves in the way that they want and what they think is important to them.
“Hearing these different opinions shows the diversity of our team and shows how many different guys we have that come from different backgrounds and have so many beliefs and opinions. It’s something that we take pride in. Having those conversations have been good for us.”