Nick Saban: NFL player protests not meant to disrespect veterans

NASHVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs onto the field with his team prior to a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Nick Saban takes questions from fans during his weekly radio show, and on Thursday night, he fielded one about the recent protests in the NFL.

The question came from a retired veteran who wondered if Saban would welcome former Alabama players, now in the NFL, back to the Crimson Tide sideline after participating in protests. Saban answered that question in an indirect way while making it clear he believes those protesting during the national anthem are not trying to “disrespect” veterans.

“I don’t think that what these people are doing is in any way, shape or form meant to disrespect a veteran or somebody like yourself who has worked so hard, fought so hard and sacrificed so much for all of us to have the quality of life that we want to have,” Saban said. “But one of the things that you also fought for and made sacrifice for was that we could all have the freedom to have a choice in terms of what we believe, what we do and what we said.”

Here’s the full transcript of the exchange, via Chandler Rome of the Anniston Star:

Q: “I’m a retired veteran. I’d like to get your take on the players of the NFL that won’t stand for our national anthem. I’d also like to know if some of your previous players from Alabama that won’t stand for the national anthem would be welcomed on your sideline. That’s my question.”

A: “First of all, I’m just a football coach. I don’t have all the answers to all the problems that we have in society. The one thing that’s a little disappointing to me is something that has always been really unifying, something that created spirit in our country and was very unifying is no longer that way. That’s a little bothersome to me.

“I don’t think that what these people are doing is in any way, shape or form meant to disrespect a veteran or somebody like yourself who has worked so hard, fought so hard and sacrificed so much for all of us to have the quality of life that we want to have. But one of the things that you also fought for and made sacrifice for was that we could all have the freedom to have a choice in terms of what we believe, what we do and what we said.

“This is not something … and, look, I respect people’s individual rights. I have my opinions in terms of what I would do and how I would do it. I’m not one ever to disrespect the symbols that represent the values of our country. I also respect individual differences that other people have and they have the right to express those — whether it’s our players or somebody else, whether I agree or disagree, I do think they have the right to do that.”

Players, led by Colin Kaepernick, have been protesting during the national anthem dating back to last year’s NFL preseason. From the start Kaepernick, who first sat during the anthem and then took a knee, said he was doing it to bring attention to racial injustices in our country. Since then, a handful others followed suit (some by taking a knee, others by raising a fist), but the protests exploded last week when President Trump called out players who have kneeled during the anthem, saying they should be fired.

Whether it carries over into college football remains to be seen. Most college teams remain in the locker room during the anthem for various reasons (pregame ceremonies, broadcast schedules, etc), so any protests would not be as frequent as they were in the NFL. There are no NCAA requirements for teams being on the field for the anthem. It’s an “aspect of gameday operation that the home school handles,” an NCAA spokesperson told The Athletic earlier this week.

Northwestern already said its team will walk onto the field arm-in-arm for its game at Wisconsin on Saturday after the anthem is played (Wisconsin’s pregame procedure keeps teams in the locker rooms during the anthem) in a show of unity. However, Northwestern is one school that has teams on the field for the anthem. When the Wildcats return home against Penn State on Oct. 7, coach Pat Fitzgerald told the Chicago Tribune he would not have a problem if his players chose to protest during the anthem.

It wouldn’t be the first time. There were a handful of protests during the anthem last year with players at Nebraska taking a knee and players at Michigan, Michigan State and Nevada raising their fists.

Michael Rose-Ivey #15 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers kneels during the National Anthem before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 25, 2016 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)


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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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