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Interview: A College Official's Take On Student Athlete Activism

University of Nevada, Reno

The protest of current NFL and former University of Nevada Wolf Pack football player, Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem to bring attention to racism...is creating controversy. 

It also brings up questions on how any person involved with sports should react toward different social issues. To find out more, our reporter, Marcus Lavergne, recently sat down with a UNR athletic official to ask his views on social activism at the college level. Here's that conversation:

ML: Doug, I want to focus in on college athletes and their place in the political realm and the social justice realm. What are your thoughts on that?

Doug Knuth: When you look at the history and you look at the 60’s and Vietnam era, there was a lot of protest on college campuses, and frankly, you see more and more of that today as well.

Specific to athletes, that’s a growing area too because I think athletes are starting to realize they do have a voice. They are highly visible. People do pay attention when they speak.

ML: I’d say a great example of that is what happened a year ago at the University of Missouri, where football players boycotted their program due to their university’s inaction toward some racial issues that were going on, on campus.

Doug Knuth: Universities are listening and communities are listening, and that empowers more people to say, ‘hey, we have an issue,’ or, ‘we have something we want to speak up about and see if we can make change,’ and that’s what some athletes are doing.

We haven’t had a lot of that here, but you mentioned the University of Missouri. They came out strong, and I understand that isn’t the first time. That’s a campus that does have some activism, does have a history, but there’s [sic] other schools, if you look around in our region – Washington and Cal Berkeley and UCLA. There’s [sic] a lot of schools where you hear of these kind of protests happening among athletes.

ML: Do you think just having that influence on people… in being there, there has to be some kind of balance to what you do?

Doug Knuth: If you’re going to voice your opinion on something there are going to be consequences that come along with that, some good and some bad.

Students have that ability, and again, there’s something about being on a college campus that doesn’t really exist in private business or corporations or other parts of our community, but on a college campus there’s a safety for students to speak out and to test authority, to challenge authority.

If the football team came out and was challenging something, it’d be one of those things where we’d have to pay attention to it and see what the issues of the day are. It would be interesting here in Reno, because it hasn’t happened in the past.

I go to a lot of our student government meetings and interact with our student leadership. I’m always impressed – like blown away impressed – about how plugged in and engaged these young men and women are. I kind of marvel at the fact they’re so [much] more advanced than I ever was when I was in college.

They have… just a grasp of big issues and want to make change in the world, and it’s really fun to be part of a college campus. It’s really fun to be here and be plugged into students who think that way.

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