When North Carolina coach Roy Williams first heard about Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, Williams reacted the way a lot of Kaepernick’s critics have reacted.
“At first, it made me very angry,” Williams said on Tuesday during UNC’s annual preseason media day. “The guy’s making $19 million – what do you have to say against our country?”
That was Williams’ first reaction. Then, he said, he learned more about Kaepernick’s motivation. Williams said he “listened better” to the message that Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has inspired a nationwide dialogue, was trying to deliver.
Amid a long, sordid string of police violence against black men, Kaepernick began protesting the national anthem during the NFL’s preseason. He has knelt, instead of stood, while the anthem has played before games, and other NFL and college players have since joined in solidarity with their own anthem protests.
“He wasn’t saying this was a bad country,” Williams said. “He said we’ve got not just one particular problem, but one particular problem he was taking a stance on, and I think he’s correct. So I told that to the team.”
At UNC, a group of students protested the national anthem before the Tar Heels played a football game against Pittsburgh at Kenan Stadium on Sept. 24. While they played the national anthem before that game, some members of the UNC marching band also took a knee.
Williams said he has discussed the anthem protest with his players and “told them, ‘You know, come on – tell me what you’re thinking, feeling, if you’ve got any questions about it.’”
Charlotte recently became the latest city to experience turmoil after a black police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, a black man. After the shooting, protesters filled the city streets.
The first night of the protests included violent, chaotic scenes. The unrest lasted several days, and questions still surround Scott’s death and the police’s use of deadly force. At UNC, Williams said two of his players sought his opinion about what happened in Charlotte.
“I think we have a very significant problem throughout our entire country,” Williams said.
He said he has asked that his players not “surprise” him. Instead Williams said he has encouraged dialogue.
“If somebody came in and said, ‘Coach, I want to do this,’ I would try to understand what he’s saying and give him my point of view and hopefully a decision would be made,” Williams said. “But we do have a marvelous, marvelous place to live. We have some problems that are very much right out in front of us.
“And so I’ve softened my stance a great deal on Kaepernick.”