CLEMSON — Nobody had asked Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, until Tuesday, for his thoughts on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem as their way of protesting racial injustice.
Swinney, often willing to provide passionate soliloquies on topics mattering greatly to him inside and outside of football, answered the question with a 986-word sermon lasting nearly eight minutes, speaking somberly and with frequent pauses as he addressed not just Kaepernick’s mission, but the recent issues plaguing the country regarding police brutality and political statements.
On Kaepernick, Swinney said, “I think everybody has the right to express himself in that regard. But I don’t think it’s good to be a distraction to your team. I don’t think it’s good to use the team as a platform. I totally disagree with that. Not his protest. But I just think there’s a right way to do things. I don’t think two wrongs make a right. Never have, never will. I think it just creates more divisiveness, more division.”
Other NFL players joined Kaepernick’s protest during the first weekend of NFL games, which Sunday coincided with the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kaepernick and other players have said they will continue their protests in future games until they see change in society.
“I think there’s a better way. How about call a press conference? Express your feelings. Everybody will show up, talk about it,” Swinney said. “Go and be a part of things, and protest them. That’s great. I think everybody has that right. I certainly respect that. But I just think that this just creates more division. That’s what I hate to see.”
Swinney made reference to civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his wish for all people to remember King’s message.
“I hate to see what’s going on in our country. I really do. I think this is a good world. I think this is a great country. It’s just that things get painted with a broad brush in this world these days.
“There’s more good than bad in this world,” Swinney said. “With Martin Luther King, I don’t know that there’s ever been a better man or better leader. To me, he changed the world. He changed the world through love in the face of hate. He changed the world through peace in the face of violence. He changed the world through education in the face of ignorance. And he changed the world through Jesus. Boy, that’s politically incorrect. That’s what he did. It’s amazing when we don’t learn from our past how you can repeat your mistakes.”
Swinney, an avowed Christian, quoted two commandments from the Bible he deems most significant in life.
“It says, Love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul,” Swinney said. “The second one is, love your neighbor as you’d love yourself. It doesn’t say love your neighbor from the same religion. It doesn’t say love your neighbor if they’re the same color as you. It doesn’t say love your neighbor if they pull for the same team as you. It doesn’t say love your neighbor if they’re the same gender as you, or whatever. (It doesn’t say) love your neighbor if they have the same sexuality as you. It just says, love your neighbor as you’d love yourself. If we all lived by that in this country, we wouldn’t have near the problems we have.”
Swinney referred to his older brother, Tracy, a retired police officer who Dabo Swinney said worked 30 years on the force.
“There’s a lot of good police officers. There’s thousands of perfect traffic stops. Lot of good men. Lot of good women. But those don’t get the stories,” Swinney said. “There’s some criminals that wear badges. Guess what? There’s some criminals that work in the media. There’s some criminals that are football coaches. There’s some criminals that are politicians. There are criminals that work in churches. It’s so easy to say we have a race problem, but we got a sin problem. It’s just my opinion. That’s Dabo’s opinion.”
To activists who have decried the state of America, Swinney said “some of these people need to move to another country.”
“I think the answer to our problems is exactly what they were for Martin Luther King when he changed the world. Love, peace, education, tolerance of others, Jesus,” Swinney said. “A lot of these things in this world were only a dream for Martin Luther King. Not a one-term, but a two-term African-American president. And this is a terrible country? There are interracial marriages. I go to a church that’s an interracial church. Those were only dreams for Martin Luther King. Black head coaches. Black quarterbacks. Quarterbacks at places like Georgia and Alabama and Clemson. For Martin Luther King, that was just a dream. Black CEOs, NBA owners, you name it. Unbelievable.
“Now, does that mean that there’s not still problems? Yes. Where there’s people, whether they’re black, green, yellow, orange or white, there is going to be sin, greed, hate, jealousy, deceitfulness. There’s going to be that. That’s always going to be there. But attitude, work ethic, love, respect for others, that doesn’t know any color.”
In terms of the actual question posed to him, Swinney said he would not discipline a player for choosing to kneel during the national anthem — though it is a hypothetical question, as regular season college football stadiums play the anthem while teams are in the locker room.
“The only thing I’m going to discipline my player for is things within this team and the team rules, holding everybody accountable to the standard,” Swinney said. “Guys want to be part of things, I just think they should do it on their own time, and outside of the team framework. That’s just my opinion.”
No. 5-ranked Clemson (2-0) is preparing to host South Carolina State (0-2) Saturday at noon at Memorial Stadium.