UNM prez: Players meant 'no disrespect' by kneeling for anthem

The University of New Mexico’s interim president is standing up for several football players who took a knee for the national anthem during a game against the Air Force Academy.

According to The Albuquerque Journal, a total of five UNM players took a knee during the game on Saturday when the anthem was unexpectedly played during the halftime break, reportedly becoming the first college players to emulate the tactic popularized by NFL players.

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In a statement released Wednesday, Interim President Chaouki Abdallah said that he had a chance to discuss the incident with the players, and expressed that both coaches were not notified that the anthem would be played after the second quarter.

“We discussed the unfortunate events that led to this outcome, from their perspective,” Abdallah recounted, taking responsibility for the decision to play the anthem at halftime but noting that he had not anticipated that the players would be on the field at the time.

According to the report, the decision to move the national anthem to halftime was largely related to delays caused by weather. Instead of heading for the locker rooms, the players also remained on the field due to a shortened halftime period that only lasted five minutes.

“Senior officials (including myself) decided to deviate from normal practice and play the national anthem during the halftime,” Abdallah continued. “When the national anthem was played, the football players were on the field at a time when they would normally be in their locker rooms. Unfortunately, this decision was not conveyed to the coaches or players. They were caught off-guard.”

The university president insisted that the players did not intend to disrespect the U.S. flag or the military, arguing that “these young men were put in a difficult situation and they quickly made the choice to show solidarity with the cause championed by players in the NFL.”

[RELATED: College coaches say they would ‘stand there proud’ for anthem]

“They did not break any laws—they exercised their rights as U.S. citizens,” Abdallah elaborated, adding that although he “may or may not agree with the message, I fully support our student-athletes and their right to peacefully and legally express themselves.”

Spokespersons for UNM did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for additional comment.

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