ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Five New Mexico football players knelt as the Lobos band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the conclusion of the first half of Saturday’s game against Air Force.
With lightning causing officials to keep the stadium closed until a half-hour before the game, most of the pre-game ceremonies were wiped out.
An hour-long lightning delay at the end of the first quarter led officials to limit halftime to five minutes, keeping both teams on the field.
At the final whistle of the first half, the band hustled behind the north end zone to play the national anthem while players from both teams formed ragged lines along the sidelines, facing the flag.
New Mexico captain Garrett Hughes, senior linebacker Kimmie Carson, sophomore linebacker Elijah Lilly and junior defensive backs Stanley Barnwell Jr. and Michael Sewell Jr. knelt. The move did not seem to elicit much response from the fans.
The playing of the anthem seemed to be an unplanned event, New Mexico coach Bob Davie said.
“We’ve never been out there for the national anthem, and the agreement was that there wasn’t going to be a national anthem played,” Davie said of Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and the head official.
“I didn’t even know that it was going to be played when it was played. I’m not sure our players knew. So again, I’d like to have the opportunity to visit with our players, talk about what our stance would be, unify it as a football team. I kind of got shocked by that.”
Calhoun said he didn’t really have an issue with the players kneeling.
“That’s their right,” he said. “They live in a country where they’re allowed to do that. We’ve got service members all over the world currently and who have served so if somebody chooses not to stand, they’re allowed to. There’s no law and there should be no law and it should be your choice.”
Davie said he’s still trying to process what happened.
“I wouldn’t want to judge or have too much of a critique at least speaking from my standpoint as talking about a total football team,” he said.
Davie added: “In fairness to them, I never really talked to them about it. First time I’ve ever been in a game where the national anthem was played at halftime and it wasn’t even a halftime. So there was a lot of confusion. I’m not making any excuses. I don’t know who did what. The whole thing was kind of bizarre to me how the whole thing happened.”
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