The Colin Kaepernick protest is spreading. Across the nation, professional, college and high school athletes are taking a knee during the National Anthem. Central Illinois is no exception.
Jamal Jackson and Quincy Butler are football players at Illinois Wesleyan University. As seniors, they’re leaders on their teams and they’re following the Kaepernick protest, trying to start a conversation.
“It’s been something that we’ve kind of been searching for a while, a way to get involved,” says Jackson.
The pair knelt for the anthem two weekends ago, at an away game. This past Saturday, they continued to protest on their home field.
Butler explains, “We never really had an outlet to express a protests that can be as impactful of us taking a knee.”
Butler and Jackson are protesting instances of police brutality, racial profiling, and social and economic inequalities. As black men, they say they’ve been dealing with differences their whole lives.
“Even in my own personal experience, just being pulled over more frequently than my white friends,” says Jackson.
As Titan leaders, it wasn’t an easy decision to kneel. They understand why some people look at the protest negatively. They were also worried about what their teammates might think. But it was something they had to do.
“I’m finally at the age where I feel I can start speaking about it and voice my opinions about things,” says Jackson.
Both players want to make one thing clear- this protest isn’t meant to be a sign of disrespect.
“I have family and friends that have served in the military. That’s the last thing I want,” says Butler.
Jackson does too. But for them, it’s about the bigger picture.
“I’m just doing one little thing I can do,” says Jackson. “As much as people are upset about me taking a knee, I’m just as upset about racial injustices across the country,”
So far, they haven’t heard much criticism. They say, most of the team is supportive, even if they don’t necessarily agree with what they’re doing. And the Titans have the school behind them.
Mike Wagner, IWU Athletic Director explains. “We have very bright students who are very passionate about what they do and what they’re causes are.”
IWU encourages it’s students to follow their passions.
“We support their first amendment right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” says Wagner.
Jackson and Butler plan to continue to kneel during the anthem. They know they’re surrounded by the leaders of the future. That’s why they’re trying to open a dialog now. They say they want to be an agent of change.
“Obviously, me taking a knee isn’t going suddenly stop everything in the country. But what it can do is start a conversation,” Jackson says.