By Max Marcilla
Many football games across America have started with players, coaches and even owners kneeling — or linking arms — during the playing of the national anthem.
That movement had never reached the football games at the University of Maryland, possibly because its football team stays in the locker room during the anthem.
But before Maryland football’s 37-21 loss to Northwestern, that familiar scene had an unconventional twist: players didn’t kneel, but members of the Mighty Sound of Maryland marching band did.
The movement, which was started by ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to raise awareness for police brutality, escalated when President Donald Trump commented on the issue in September. Trump said he would “love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now.’”
While the band was getting dressed for the game, interim director Eli Osterloh “briefed” the group about the possibility of kneeling for the national anthem, multiple band members said.
“He knew about the trend of people kneeling during the national anthem and he just wanted to let everyone know that they would have the right to do so if they wanted to,” said junior Logan Neufeld, one member of the band that took a knee. “If they wanted to, they wouldn’t be in any trouble.”
A freshman member of the drumline, Julien Sherman, was another one of about a dozen Terps to kneel during the national anthem.
“The moment leading up to the anthem, that’s all I was thinking about,” Sherman said. “There were nerves but at the same time I believed that what I was doing was right. I do want people to question it and for people to be angry and talk to people about it and really read about what’s going on.”
What made his decision easier was a conversation with Neufeld, a fellow drumline member, moments before the band took the field.
“[Logan] also plays snare and marches next to me,” Sherman said. “He asked me right before we went and did our pregame show, ‘Are you going to kneel?’ I said, ‘I think I am, how about you,’ and he said, ‘I want to.’ So in that moment I knew that we were going to do it.”
Neufeld said he didn’t face many nerves before he knelt, but rather he was thinking about why he was about to participate in the protest that has swept the nation.
“I did it for a lot of why Colin Kaepernick started the protests — to bring attention to the issues in our country of police violence and systemic racism,” Neufeld said. They’re topics I’ve definitely discussed before and feel strongly about. I thought this was a good opportunity for me to contribute to this protest.”
Despite support from his drumline partners, Sherman still received some backlash. He posted a photo on Instagram with a lengthy caption explaining why he kneeled.
“[I knelt] to show that I am passionate about this country that by its own words claims that it is, ‘indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,’” the caption read.
While Sherman received many likes, positive comments and messages, his Instagram post did not come without some criticism.
“I had someone direct message me and he’s a pretty good friend of mine,” Sherman said. “And he said that what I did was a very wussy thing to do and that I disrespected a lot of people’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.”
Sherman asked for his friends’ uncles address in a plea to send him a letter thanking him for his service.
“[My friend] was not sure what to say,” Sherman said. “[He wrote] ‘I’m just hoping this will all create a positive in the end.’”
Sherman still views his Instagram post as a positive because it triggered a conversation about something he believes is uncomfortable to talk about.
Band members have not decided if they will kneel for Maryland’s next home game — a meeting with Indiana on Oct. 28 — but Sherman knows what his next step will be.
“I believe that we are addressing an issue, and it’s very important to talk about and come up with solutions for [police brutality].”
Featured image courtesy of Lauren Anikis (Stories Beneath the Shell).