We live in a world with far fewer walls than some people would like. We live in a society, not a set of hermetically sealed pods. Thus, there are things that affect us all. Sometimes, discussion of those things crosses boundaries. When a politician — any politician, left or right, Republican or Democrat — ventures into the topic of sports, a mix is inevitable.
That’s why Nick Saban was asked — full disclosure here, asked by me — about the current conversation regarding protests by athletes, particularly those centered around the pregame national anthem.
Saban is the premier coach in college football, and has the experience to have reached statesman status. His views matter. He was on campus at the Kent State protests, a watershed of American history. He deals with 100 or more student-athletes, black and white, rich and poor, every single day. His perspective matters.
His answer was calm and carefully considered. He took no political side, although he did stress his support for his players and their right to express themselves.
In other words, he answered like a leader.
“I’m just a football coach,” Saban said. “I don’t keep up with all that stuff as much as maybe everybody else does, especially during the season, especially when we’re playing games.
“To me, some of the things that we do in our country when I grew up, they were unifying events, and it’s a little painful to see that those things are not so right now,” Saban continued. “I also respect everyone’s rights not to be censored in terms of the way they express their beliefs. I’m just a coach. I don’t have the answers to all the questions.
“I know that most good things come out of love and respect and compassion and unifying people. Most bad things come out of hate and dislike and deceit. Hopefully we can focus on the above and not the below.”
Other reporters asked the Alabama players — who, like most college players, are in the locker room during the pregame ceremony that includes the national anthem — about their opinions. Defensive back Anthony Averett and running back Damien Harris said midseason wasn’t the time to get into the discussion. There was no angry rhetoric, no attempt to stir controversy.
Linebacker Anfernee Jennings did offer an opinion.
“I support what they’re doing because I understand and everything,” Jennings said. “I support everything they’re doing and what they’re standing for. At the end of the day, you have one goal. It doesn’t matter what color, what background, it doesn’t matter where you come from. We’re trying to accomplish one goal. That’s where brotherhood comes in.”
Saban also stressed the “respect and trust” that keeps a team unified in controversial times.
“People respect and trust the principles and values of the organization, but they also respect and trust each other, and I think that because everybody has bought into the same thing, you have the same goal,” Saban said. “You have the same spirit in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re trying to do. I think it’s a very unifying factor when everybody respects — and because you respect the people, you respect the individual differences as well.”
There is no answer that pleases every side in any political debate. There can be answers that deserve respect, agree or disagree. Those are the kind of answers that came from the Mal Moore complex on Monday.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.