Sit down, Coach Ault

Jeff Mitchell is a former adjunct professor and double alumnus from the University of Nevada’s Sociology Department.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racism in the United States has stirred local and national opinions over tactics, patriotism and effectiveness. The Reno Gazette-Journal entered the fray by both fact-checking Kaepernick’s claim that cops receive less training than cosmetologists—they do—and publishing an essay written by Kap’s former University of Nevada, Reno football coach and local hero Chris Ault. In it, Ault makes the claim that “you never lead by sitting down,” and while agreeing prejudice exists, “the sword has two edges.”

It is interesting that Ault would make this claim considering his position as Kap’s former college coach. Putting aside the fact that sitting has a long history as a protest tactic of the civil rights movement, and that there is a long line of famous black athletes who have used their achieved status as a platform to advocate for social justice issues, Ault’s response cuts against the very mission of nurturing student athletes. Kaepernick’s actions are those of a socially conscious, civically engaged university graduate, and that reflects positively on Ault as a coach. For Ault to criticize him publicly only speaks to his own passive racism. His response and others like it are differently tooled but equally employed mechanisms of suppressing dissent by people of color. It suggests that Kap, and others he speaks for, should only protest these issues in ways that are acceptable to the very people that they are protesting.

Police forces across the country are killing its citizens, an issue well documented by this newspaper, and those citizens are disproportionately people of color. To suggest that this issue is “a sword with two edges,” implies that somehow the victims of police violence bring it on themselves. One need only look at the data, something I suspect Ault and other critics of Kaepernick’s protest have not done, to know that policing tactics in America are racially biased. For Kap to recognize this problem and take action to bring awareness to it is something that Coach Ault and the University of Nevada, Reno should be proud of. Ault should offer his support for his former athlete, and if he can’t do that, maybe he should take a page out of Kaepernick’s playbook and sit down.