GREENVILLE, ILL. - The pre-game festivities at Greenville College’s Homecoming football game Saturday afternoon were supposed to go smoothly, and for the most part, they did.
Because it was also Senior Day, several senior class players were recognized for their contributions to the team.
One of them even became engaged to his fiancé on the 50-yard line as he proposed to his girlfriend.
With their opponents waiting in the wings, the football team gathered briefly at their sideline, and then suddenly started to walk off the field.
Well, most of them did; others walked to the sideline and stood facing the field with their hands at their side or behind their backs.
Entering the field from the right of the bleachers were a color guard from VFW Lodge 1377, and right behind them, dozens of veterans who had organized and
They carried flags and banners, forming a line at mid-field that stretched 50 yards long.
It was unexpected, and unapproved.
According to Greenville College’s Chief Legal Officer Suzanne Davis, the school had no idea the veterans would be attending today’s game.
They were also told they could not go out on the field with the color guard, something corroborated by Korean War veteran Russell Rieke, Sr.
As a result of the non-compliance of the veterans, Davis says the Greenville College team was ordered off the field due to safety concerns.
Not all of the student-athletes complied, choosing instead to stay on the sidelines of their own volition.
As the rest of the football team gathered off the field, alumni in town for homecoming sang the school alma mater, and then the National Anthem.
In previous weeks, some of the student-athletes had taken up protesting during the National Anthem by kneeling to bring recognition to the plight of African Americans.
It had sparked deep divisions in what certain groups felt was respectful.
The President of Greenville College, Ivan Filby did not have time for a conversation at Francis Field Saturday afternoon, but his position on the student-athlete protest has been made clear over the past few weeks both in an internal email to students and staff, and through public response to questions posed to him by the local paper, the Greenville Advocate.
Ultimately Filby takes no side in the argument, choosing instead to support students choice to stand or kneel equally.
He does say the act of kneeling during the anthem is not intended to disrespect our nation, veterans or first responders; it instead is an acknowledgment that not all citizens experience the freedom our veterans fought for and defended.
At least one veteran, who has folded the American flag over the casket of dozens of dead soldiers, felt that acknowledgment could be done at other times and that the moment where people are asked to show respect to the flag should be reserved solely for it.
This week, about a handful of players knelt during the anthem; none of the players standing in front of the veterans joined them.
In all, about 18 players stood at attention with their hand over their heart.
Afterward, the veterans walked up to them and shook the hands of each of the players who stood before them.
Past the end zone, the rest of the team waited in a large group; one of them his fist raised in the air akin to the famous image of Tommy Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Olympic Games.
And then, as if nothing had happened, a football game broke out.
Still, murmurs of the protests and who was right or wrong were shared as the pigskin moved back and forth across the gridiron.