Fargo

Remember the righteous outrage when Carson Wentz started his AO1 Foundation, a Christianity-based organization the former North Dakota State quarterback started because he wanted to use his platform to better the world?

If you do, you're lying. Never happened. When the Bison star advanced to the NFL and decided to use his new influence (and money) to espouse Christian values, Wentz was treated as a hero. Bison Nation, particularly the big-monied members, couldn't get close enough to him.

Wentz was encouraged to support a cause in which he believed, to speak about it publicly and to speak openly about his Christianity.

Nobody told him to shut up and play football.

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The same courtesy is not being extended to current members of the Bison football team, some of whom participated in a team unity video that included the words "Black lives matter" and then kneeled during the national anthem prior to Saturday's game against Central Arkansas at the Fargodome.

Star quarterback Trey Lance wore cleats on which he wrote "BLM." And some players had stickers on their helmets with the Black Lives Matter symbol.

The reaction from some corners of Bison fandom has been visceral.

"Disrespectful!"

"Stop stirring up trouble and scram, Trey!"

"Shut up and play football!"

Those are but some of the online responses to the Bison's pregame display. Many more are vulgar and not a few are blatantly racist.

It is disheartening and embarrassing.

Many Bison fans, it is clear, want their football players — particularly the Black ones — to win games and keep their mouths shut. The student-athletes, most of whom are bright and dynamic individuals, are little more than pieces of meat in green and yellow uniforms to some fans.

They are strictly entertainment for the masses, thank you, and nobody sought or wants to hear their opinions. Unless, of course, the opinion is that Bison fans are the best in college football and that everything about NDSU is awesome.

No. That's not what college athletes are in 2020. Not at NDSU or anyplace else. Times have changed, folks, and for that we should be appreciative and supportive.

College athletes aren't automatons. They are intelligent, increasingly aware young people who are just beginning to understand their leverage in the multi-billion dollar machine that is college sports.

This group of Bison athletes has pledged, as a team, to take actions that will help this community be better.

Lance, in particular, has said he'll use his platform to try and make a difference in the world. Sound familiar?

This is viewed as unacceptable by some fans, many of the same ones who had no problem with Wentz using his platform to make a difference.

Sad.

The 52-second video that played in the Fargodome prior to kickoff was an eloquent message of unity in difficult times. Black players and white players, pledging to understand each other's worlds and have one another's backs.

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About 15 Bison, mostly Black players, kneeled during the national anthem. It was, as was said during the video message, "not about disrespecting the flag. It's about protecting one another."

It was a team-building message that the Bison will always stick together. Isn't that what the hardcore Bison rubes say NDSU football is all about?

We stand here today.

As a team.

As brothers.

As a family that loves one another.

Accepts each other's differences.

And acknowledges each other's pain.

Our experiences might not be the same.

But my brother's pain is my pain.

It's not about disrespecting the flag.

It's about protecting one another.

From racism.

From violence.

It's time to learn from each other.

To listen.

To hear.

To really understand each other's pain.

It's time to speak out for those who feel like they can't.

As teammates.

As friends.

As brothers.

My life matters.

His life matters.

Their lives matter.

Black lives matter.

Above all else,

We are all Bison.

United together.

These are beautiful and impactful words, written by Bison receiver Phoenix Sproles. It was a remarkable moment inside the Fargodome to see the video and hear the words, a message about social and racial justice in a venue that is normally blaring with too-loud music and endless advertisements.

These athletes are not just jockstraps. There is substance there. Bison fans should celebrate that their favorite university is producing sharp young people who have the ability to think critically and the courage to follow through on their convictions.

It was the most meaningful video ever played during a Bison game.

As for the kneeling and messages on Lance's cleats, the outrage directed at that gesture is the rehash of the Colin Kaepernick controversy. The tired argument that the playing of the national anthem should be greeted with total silence and undivided attention. This is how we respect the flag and the military, the propagandists tell us.

You'll recall, however, that during any usual anthem playing at the Fargodome, the concourses and restrooms are buzzing with hustling people buying snacks or relieving themselves after tailgating. The 18,700 fans usually in the dome raise their right hands in the "hook 'em" sign and scream "BISON!" at the last word of the song.

"... home of the BISON!"

Will you stop being a Bison football fan because some players delivered a social justice message and kneeled during the national anthem?

Thank you for voting!

  • Yes

    31%

  • No

    69%

That is considered respectful compared to kneeling quietly to protest racial injustice.

The anger in some corners of Bison Nation was as predictable as an NDSU blowout victory. There are those who don't want "their" athletes, particularly "their" Black athletes, to have any role except winning games and providing entertainment. They don't want their Saturdays polluted by the idea that "their" athletes are living, thinking humans.

Theirs is a shallow, hypocritical existence. It's OK for some athletes to tell us what they think and what they stand for, but not others. The difference seems so obvious it's right there in black and white.

The players, head coach Matt Entz and athletic director Matt Larsen are to be praised for supporting their athletes by letting them have a say in these troubled times. What occurred Saturday night was unthinkable just a few years ago. George Floyd's death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer was clearly a tipping point.

Entz recognizes the moment and his team's feelings, and is willing to let them have their say. He says he will have their backs, no matter what. Isn't that leadership?

"The easy way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing and be nothing. I don't think that's what this program is built on," Entz said after the game Saturday.

That's strong.

Just like the video and the players taking a knee.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com or (701) 451-5655