CRAWFORD | Petrino, on anthem question, makes rare statement on a political issue
University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino on Monday shared what he told his team on Sunday about this past weekend's national anthem protests in the NFL.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – If you’re looking to have a current events discussion with University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino during football season, you’re barking up the wrong coaching tree.
I once heard Petrino talk about CNN during the season. He was saying that on game nights in the hotel he turns it on – to help him sleep.
Coaches are all different. Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is a self-described “political junkie.” He’s immersed in the news. Petrino is immersed in figuring out ways to utilize his tight ends in the red zone.
That’s why Petrino taking time to answer a question about the recent NFL national anthem protests during his Monday news conference was remarkable. It was the most I’d ever heard him talk about any social issue.
Now, it doesn’t really impact the way his program operates. U of L, like most college teams, isn’t on the field for the national anthem. Television broadcasts love to show teams running out onto the field. They don’t show the anthem during home games. So generally, college teams play the anthem, then have the team charge out onto the field through smoke or a cheer line or whatever.
The point is, the anthem is out of play for many college programs. (It’s different for basketball. Pitino told his players last year that they were free to speak out on any social issue when speaking to the media, but when representing the program they would stand for the anthem as a team.)
Still, this is an issue for football players, and fans, around the nation. It largely had died down, until a series of comments and Tweets from President Donald Trump, who has said that if players won’t stand for the anthem, owners should fire them.
In response to that, NFL owners and players responded in a variety of ways, including not coming out for the anthem, kneeling, locking arms during the anthem, issuing statements.
While his team was together Sunday night in its meeting room, Petrino brought the issue up.
“What I told them was that I would always stand for the national anthem because when I think of the national anthem, I’m picturing us beating the Redcoats, winning World War I,” Petrino said. “I was fortunate enough to go over and coach the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, so I picture being there and being at Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese attacked. So, everything that I picture when it comes to the national anthem is about somebody out there fighting for us and allowing me to have the freedom to be a football coach. I also told them that the greatest thing about the United States of America is that you have the freedom of choice. So, if your decision is to kneel, that’s your decision. The NFL players that are out there kneeling, they’re doing it because No. 1, Colin Kaepernick; and, No. 2, because the president said don’t do it. We all know that once you tell a young guy not to do something, they’re going to do it more. So, he needs to learn the psychology. Tell them to kneel and they wouldn’t. I just wanted our players to be aware of it.”
He went out of his way not to give only his own viewpoint, however, but the views of those whose opinions differ.
“I also read them some comments from some of the NFL players and (Pittsburgh Steelers) coach (Mike) Tomlin and why he chose to keep the Steelers in the locker room because that’s really true, a lot of the things he said about some people not being lucky enough to be a football player and to be able to have relationships and be a family with young men who are from different races, different religions, different ethnicities,” Petrino said. “It’s like all of us come all together and become a family, and now we experience everything, but not everyone gets to do that. I thought our players needed to hear it, needed to understand what my thoughts were, and then they needed to spend some time thinking about it and understanding where we are right now with our culture.”
Petrino also expressed disappointment at the president’s comments about football players. A Courier-Journal online quiz in June identified Petrino as a registered Republican, according to public records, but the coach said he didn’t agree with the president’s attempt to influence NFL owners.
“I also get upset that our president is out there tweeting because I think he’s in a position where he could really help our country and do a lot of good things,” Petrino said. “There’s a lot more things more important than tweeting about football and basketball and those things.”
It’s worth noting, because Petrino doesn’t venture into this territory very often, at least not publicly. He did his best to express his personal belief that you should stand for the anthem, and respect the flag and country, while also noting, “I think you have to respect that in the United States of America you have a choice.”
Just don’t expect him to become a political pundit anytime soon -- even if his statement on this was as thoughtful, measured and insightful as I've heard him make on any subject.
“If it wasn’t involved with football, I wouldn’t have brought it up to them,” he said. “But because they play this sport and this a big deal nationally, I thought that I should speak to them about it.”
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