Cincinnati.com reports as the Big Ten Conference launches a voter registration drive for more than 9,500 student-athletes while also announcing an Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition, Commissioner Kevin Warren told USA TODAY Sports that conference athletes would be able to kneel during the national anthem if sports are played this fall.
“I’m going to personally empower student-athletes to express their right to free speech and peaceful protest,” Warren said in a phone interview Sunday. “What I have to do as a leader, I know my words matter, I know my actions matter and I will work through over these next couple months where I stand, and they know I stand together with them in all that I do.”
Asked if that means Big Ten student-athletes would not be prevented from kneeling, Warren replied, “Correct. That’s part of the beauty of the country that we will live in. Individuals are encouraged to express their rights to free speech and also peaceful protests.”
Warren, who is African-American, would not say if he would personally take a knee during the anthem. “I want to hear what’s important to our coalition and what’s important to our student athletes. I want to listen.”
Warren said his decision to start the Big Ten Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition, which will be comprised of about 180 student-athletes, coaches and officials from the 14 conference schools, stems in part from his personal history.
“As a Black man in society, understanding the issues Black people in society have faced, my parents would talk to me about Emmett Till from the time that I was a kid,” he said. “Then with what’s happened this year with Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and spending 15 years of my life in the community in Minnesota working for the Vikings, raising our kids, them going to high school, knowing this community in and out, then to watch that video, and then I thought of how many times there was no video to watch, and if that had occurred probably a few hours later two streets over with no video, they would have ended up saying Mr. Floyd was resisting arrest. That happens so many times.”
Warren said the conference’s new coalition fits “hand in hand” with the voter registration drive that seeks to make sure every Big Ten athlete is registered to vote for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“I believe in any year, but especially this year and especially where we are as a society, that voting is the top way to influence issues that are going on from a social justice or social injustice standpoint,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to encourage others to vote, to vote ourselves and to make sure that we don’t allow voter suppression to occur.”
Asked if the Big Ten will recommend that athletes have the day off on Election Day to vote, as others have advocated, he said the issue “will be on the table” for the coalition when it meets virtually in the next few weeks.
Warren also said that the coalition will deal with all forms of hate, including sexism and misogyny. Asked specifically if that includes Iowa’s pink visiting football team locker room, a color associated with girls and women which the Iowa football program has used to portray weakness and softness, Warren replied:
“That is an interesting question. The reason why we’re meeting on our coalition is to talk about all these issues. Maybe there are other things that are going on on our campuses that we need to address. I will tell you this: we are going to address all of the issues in our conference and our country that are racist and that are filled with hate.”