STANFORD — David Shaw had an opportunity at Tuesday’s media luncheon to denounce last week’s criticism by President Donald Trump of the NFL and its players for protests involving the national anthem and the American flag.
Instead, the Stanford football coach, a prominent African-American figure with nine years of experience as an NFL assistant coach, shared a different message.
“First and foremost, I’m an American that loves this country,” Shaw said. “There’s an unhealthy discourse right now, because to me what’s fundamental is President Trump — not just as President Trump, but as citizen Trump — he’s entitled to his opinion. His opinion is very influential of course, but at the same time athletes because they’re athletes doesn’t mean they don’t get to have an opinion, don’t get to have an outlook, as well.
“I think opinions are valid. For some reason nowadays we just want to yell to each other as opposed to saying, ‘Here’s what I believe, you believe in something different, let’s find our commonalities and our differences and respect each other.’
“I think there’s still a continued-to-be misconception of what is being protested, and I think it’s gotten even muddier now. Where as what happened this weekend was, yes, a response to President Trump, and the way that it’s viewed is still interesting to me. There is a unification— you saw owners, you saw GMs, you saw personnel people, you saw players — which was kind of to say, ‘We’re here to play football, this is what we do. We also have something that we believe in.’ And some of those guys that knelt, some of the guys that locked arms, were not even locking arms about social injustice. They’re saying, ‘I’m playing with this guy, I’m standing next to him. He’s on my team and I respect his right to protest, not protest. But in five minutes, I also trust that he’s going to pick up that blitz. …
“ ‘We may view something differently. He may sit, kneel, salute, not salute, put his hand over his heart or not, I respect his right to do any of that. But at the same time, this protest is not infringing on their ability to do their job.’
“So for me, I think there should be respect for people that have different viewpoints and different outlooks. The question needs to continually be asked and responded to respectfully and responded to with a sense of responsibility of, ‘Here’s why I’m kneeling.’
“Now, once again, for me personally, I wouldn’t kneel. That’s not just me. But I love some of those who are. Some of those guys are like family to me, and their points are very, very valid. And what they’re trying to accomplish is noble.”
Shaw singled out Miami Dolphins free safety Michael Thomas for his efforts off the field in the community — as well as his play.
Thomas was one of several former Stanford players to speak out publicly against the President.
“I truly believe that the President is entitled to his opinion,” Shaw said. “And if he wants to vocalize it or put it on Twitter, I don’t have a problem with it, because he’s an American, also. Other people have other opinions, which is great. And at some point, we all do our jobs and try to do them to the best of our abilities.”
At this point, Shaw was asked if he was bothered about the narrative that athletes shouldn’t have an opinion.
“At heart, I’m a football coach, but also a social psychologist,” Shaw said. “Most people who know me, know that about me. And there is one of the principles that I try to explain and express to our coaches, our players, etcetera, which is there are people that are fans, there are people that are not fans, there are people that are in the media that don’t view us as people. We’re entertainment. I get that, I understand that. In my job, I accept that. I’m fine with that, that’s what I signed up for. I’m not going to be influenced by it.
“But there’s that recognition of, and I don’t want to get completely off topic, when 9/11 hit it was horrific. It was life-changing for most everybody in our country at the time. The initial response from a lot of people was the NFL should play — ‘Go out there play, because we need you to play for us.’ There’s so many people that were hurting that hadn’t heard from their families. Now, it changed very quickly, but the initial narrative, because I remember sitting there, I was with the Oakland Raiders saying, ‘I’ve got family, my wife’s got family, we’ve got players that are from New York that we don’t know if they’re going to come in today. But we should go out and play so that everyone feels good.’
“So there’s that gladiator aspect of our sport, in particular, that says, ‘You’re there to entertain us. We don’t care what your opinion is, we don’t care what your politics are, doggone it go out there and run into each other so that I can have a good day. And you can entertain me for these three hours, then I go back into my world.’
“I’m not complaining about it, that’s just reality. So I recognize that and that’s not going to change. But, at the same, that’s on someone else and it’s not on us. So I continue to express to my players, which is, have an opinion. Be intelligent about it. If you have a question, research it, find answers. And if you want to say something, great. Say something, speak from a point of intelligence, speak from a point of knowledge, say something that you can defend with reason and as much factual evidence as you have, and then continue on with life.
“We have a lot of responsibilities, and at the same time, if you feel strongly about something, great. As an American you are open to voice your opinion. And as long as you handle your responsibilities, you’re going to class, you’re doing your school work, you’re going to football (practice), working hard, trying to get better, great. You can have an opinion and to certainly be accountable to it, absolutely. But it shouldn’t interfere with your rights as an American citizen.”
Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside reaffirmed this stance.
“Coach Shaw made it very clear we’re all entitled to our own opinion,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “We’re all Stanford men, we’re all intelligent men. He just tells us that if we’re going to speak on a subject, be very educated on it.”
Finally, Shaw also addressed the topic of social activism and a trickle-down effect to collegiate athletics.
“It hasn’t necessarily, but there have been a lot of discussions,” Shaw said. “We’re so polarized right now, and in particular for this age, this is a great opportunity for them to learn about the world before they’re in it. Because we’re not necessarily in it, they’re in college. We’ve got a little glass bubble, which is outstanding. But this is the time to discuss and debate and to have an opinion and then listen to someone else’s opinion and then reform your opinion. So to have the, ‘This is what I believe and everybody else is wrong,’ in particular for this age of people, I think that’s the wrong approach to take.
“So I encourage dialogue, I encourage listening, I encourage expressing and I also encourage, ‘Hey, let’s be better on third down.’
“I don’t want to say that you’re an athlete and we just do athlete things. No, absolutely, you want to listen and you want to grow, that’s fine. But they also are going to be good at football. So I just want to make sure that this doesn’t became a full-time job of these guys, but I also don’t want to close the doors on the world that’s outside of them, because at some point we’re going to thrust them into that world. So I’d love them to be socially conscious about what’s going on.”
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