Sep 9, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Allen Lazard (5) catches a touchdown pass against Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Manny Rugamba (5) at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but choosing to exercise it can and often will provoke both support and derision.
Case in point: Iowa State star receiver Allen Lazard’s tweet Saturday afternoon in response to a series of tweets from President Donald Trump.
— Cinco LD3™ (@AllenLazard) September 23, 2017
Trump implored NFL team owners to “fire” players who choose to take a knee as a form of protest during the playing of the national anthem. The president had previously tweeted disparaging words toward former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first began sitting, instead of standing, during the national anthem last season to protest racial injustice. Trump also leveled criticism at Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, among others.
If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Lazard was not available for comment Monday because a class conflicted with post-news conference media availability. But ISU coach Matt Campbell said the team discusses wide-ranging and sometimes controversial issues frequently “within our own walls.”
“One of the things I’m a big believer in is bringing everything that’s going on nationally to our attention,” Campbell said. “We talk a lot within our own walls and just have conversation. One of our jobs as coaches is, A, unify and, B, to allow 18 to 22-year-olds to talk about various topics, whether it’s certainly the political climate we’re in today, or leadership, or whatever that may be. We do talk about those things a lot within ur walls. But form my standpoint, I don’t know if I had any thought or really even know to what extent Allen did talk about, but I don’t have an issue with our guys taking a stance in what they believe in and certainly those are things we like to bring into our forum, first and foremost, and talk about so we don’t offend anybody within our own organization but also have the ability to take a unified stance and educate our collective whole.”
Many fans tweeted in support of Lazard later Saturday. Some, however, were highly critical and dismissive. On Monday, several of Lazard’s teammates commented on the controversy — both in terms of Lazard’s tweet and the larger issues surrounding it.
“I honestly didn’t see the tweet but I just know Allen and I know what our team culture is,” cornerback Brian Peavy said. “Coach always emphasizes freedom of speech and I support anything that he said because we do have the freedom of speech.”
Quarterback Jacob Park said conversations and opinions are naturally shared among players and they don’t always pertain to football.
“Football players, we don’t just play football,” Park said. “Everybody’s got families. Everybody’s got kids. You’ve got to stand up for what you believe in and you can’t just — you don’t just do something because somebody told you you can’t do it. Nobody would get anywhere in life. There’d be four people in power in the whole world if that’s how it went down. It’s just, it’s supposed to be like this. There’s supposed to be controversy. There’s supposed to be talking about it. I’m glad we are.”
— CycloneFanatic.com (@cyclonefanatic) September 25, 2017
Sophomore receiver Hakeem Butler tweeted Sunday with pride that he plays in a stadium named after former great Jack Trice, an African-American. He said staying silent on important issues is not a viable option.
“I did tweet about that because these events, they’re very prevalent right now and we all see what’s going on,” Butler said. “Being in college, we talk about it a lot within the team and just everywhere. … It’s a topic of discussion and you have to speak up on it. You have to pick a side. Saying nothing, I think that’s worse.”
Butler was then asked what he would say to President Trump if given the chance. He didn’t bite.
“Texas vs. Iowa State Thursday,” he said in reference to the Cyclones’ nationally-televised Big 12 home opener against the Longhorns.
And there will be no posture-based controversy surrounding this big game. ISU’s players never take the field for home games until after the national anthem is played, unlike NFL teams, which began taking the field before the playing of the national anthem in 2009.
But controversy invites comment — as well as the choosing of sides, regardless of any on-the-field displays (or lack thereof). In Iowa State’s locker room, opinions are aired in an effort to build better understanding and a deeper team bond.
“The reality of it is, whatever our guys do, you hope it’s unified and you hope it’s powerful and you hope that it’s for a reason, whatever that reason may be, but it’s an educated reason why and understanding what it does,” Campbell said. “We’ve got some really bright guys on our team. We’ve had some really powerful discussions within our walls, really dating back to fall camp. I’m a guy, like I said, that really likes to have those conversations and discussions because I think it’s important. I think it’s a really important time in our country and I think leadership and teaching young men what’s going on throughout the world is really, really important rather than just being about football.”
So they’ll continue to discuss a wide range of topics while still figuring out how to best tackle a Texas-size challenge. Tweets will continue to fly from both sides of many issues. Support and backlash will likely follow concurrently. It’s the world we’re living in, with a dedication to the principle of free speech serving as the common bond that can help bridge — or at least properly explain — broad differences.
“We all come from different walks of life and we’re all so different,” Butler said. “White, black — all different kinds of races and religions. Us to get it out there and talk about it, get out in front of it, you get to come together and hear other people’s opinions. That’s the biggest thing for me. I want to know other people’s side of it, see how you think, see how your mind works.”