Two UND hockey players, Jasper Wetherby and Jacob Bernard-Docker, took a knee during the national anthem, and this generated a good deal of response around the university community. I am out of state and only infrequently hear news of UND, but from all accounts, the young men had been involved in group meetings exploring social justice issues, held discussions with fellow players and coaches, formed opinions with each coming to their own position, thought about their plans and then took their action. In other words, two young men attending my alma mater were involved in an educational process facilitated by the university.
Their protest action was to face the US flag and kneel. I’ve heard of kneeling before the queen when knighted and bowing or kneeling was required to show respect in Samurai-era Japan. I’m not aware of many cases where kneeling is considered intimidating or disrespectful, yet that appears to have been the predominant perception from a broad range of responses I saw. The men had notified their coaches and fellow players of their intentions; the administration was aware of it; the players had even explained their intentions to the press. Leadership, organizational skills? Yup, those “A’s” on their jerseys were well-earned.
The responses I saw were broadly negative. Many were of the kind by the guy complaining in an online sports forum that he had already stopped watching NFL and NBA games because of such nonsense, and now he would have to stop watching collegiate hockey. Many felt the platform was inappropriate. Others were of the mind of a letter to the Herald that complained that they had gone to see a hockey game and were forced to sit through this disrespectful demonstration. These people had been perfectly comfortable and then were confronted by an unpleasant situation they preferred to avoid. In the parlance of the military, Mr. Wetherby and Mr. Bernard-Docker, this would be termed “Mission Accomplished”. By the results, I would say the choice of platform was spot on. I trust my patriotism is not so fragile as to be threatened by a couple of young men pointing out what should be obvious, our society needs to improve when it comes to justice for minorities and we aren’t doing enough about it. Other comments were about Trey Lance – the NDSU quarterback, in case you, as I, didn’t know – who did something similar; the word was that subsequently, his university lost large donations. Our response should be simple. We are not Bison. Go Hawks!
I would love the hockey team to win the Frozen Four again. I want UND to defeat NDSU. I enjoy hearing of breakthrough research from UND, but for me, none of that compares with the joy I felt when I read of the actions of these courageous young men. In one simple act, I understood that attending the University of North Dakota could still be a life-changing experience as it had been for me. Young people of principle were still attending, and critical thinking was alive. Over the years I worried maybe the university’s focus was shifting away from a broad education to becoming more about job training, but this assured me the university still had vitality. It was still achieving its mission. I could still be proud. Bravo!
Hudson Washburn ’69, ‘71