Amidst the growing movement of football players demonstrating against racist oppression–a movement now spreading across numerous professional sports–USA Today published an article on Aug. 29 asking in its title, “What if college players followed Kaepernick’s lead?”

On Sep. 30, one month after that article appeared, six members of the University of New Mexico football program became the first collegiate athletes to do so.

Captain Garrett Hughes, senior linebacker Kimmie Carson, sophomore linebacker Elijah Lilly, and junior defensive backs Stanley Barnwell Jr. and Michael Sewell Jr. all knelt during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. In addition, junior linebacker Daquan Baker stood with his fist in the air.

Up to now, the college athletics-industrial complex hasn’t worried too much about their cash-generating college football weekends becoming a stage of protest against racism and the head of state. That’s because normally college teams are not on the field during the national anthem.

But on Sept. 30, when the UNM Lobos faced off against the Air Force Falcons, a thunderstorm prevented a pregame singing of the anthem and a lighting delay between the first and second quarters led to a shortening of halftime
to five minutes, a break period too short for either team to leave the field. When the band broke into a halftime rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” players found themselves on the field during the anthem.

University of New Mexico players seized the time and became the first collegiate athletes to openly “follow Kaepernick’s lead.”

UNM football players cited the injustices that Black people face as the reason for their protest. Stanley Barnwell Jr. told the media that he was inspired by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

If the movement of professional players spreads to collegiate athletes, it could also help bring to light a whole array of issues facing amateur athletes.

Collegiate athletes, especially Division I athletes are in a special predicament in that they are among the most exploited athletes in the United State. They are workers that generate huge amounts of money and power for colleges and universities but are not compensated and not unionized.

Collegiate athletes regularly work more than 50 hours per week. Partly because of the time commitment, graduation rates are abysmal. Only five percent of these athletes go on to professional careers, with a much higher percentage suffering chronic and expensive long-term medical problems that athletic departments do not cover.

Meanwhile, schools are raking in long-term mega-profits from broadcasting rights, merchandise sales and licensing.

The kneeling and fist-raising Lobos players have now become the target of merciless attacks from the right wing.

In a state like New Mexico that is completely in the grip of the military-industrial complex, the right is fond of repeating the nonsensical line that the free speech of the Black community against racism is “disrespectful” to veterans and enlisted service members.

This is a completely ludicrous argument!

It is the U.S. government and the Pentagon brass, not the movement of Black people against police terror, which “disrespects” enlisted and formerly enlisted soldiers, by using them as cannon fodder in wars and occupations organized by the rich, for the rich, only to be callously cast aside later on, as demonstrated by the large number of homeless veterans and astronomical suicide rate.

All progressive and revolutionary people should unequivocally salute the UNM players for speaking out!