Several DWU players kneel during national anthem to protest racism, police brutality

Some members of the Dakota Wesleyan University football team take a knee while others stand as the national anthem is played prior to the start of the Tigers' game against Dordt University on Saturday at Joe Quintal Field. (Matt Gade / Republic)

As Darby Deffenbaugh started to sing the national anthem on Saturday at Joe Quintal Field, several Dakota Wesleyan University football players took a knee.

With the support of coach Ross Cimpl and DWU President Amy Novak, many players, both Black and white, have knelt or shown support to those kneeling during the national anthem prior to all three games. The demonstration is in protest of racism and police brutality, which has been protested in professional and college sports across the world.

“Back home in Washington, I feel like it’s a really big issue out there,” said DWU fullback Matt Schwaerzler, who resides from Auburn, Washington, and was one of the few white players to kneel. “I know out here it might not be as big of a problem, but I have a lot of friends back home who are African-American and seeing how they’ve been treated is something that hits close to my heart and close to home for me.”
DWU had numerous discussions before the season about how to approach making a political statement. At first, the idea of a unified message was brought up, with everyone either kneeling or standing.

It eventually decided to let each player individually choose whether to stand or kneel during the national anthem, and showing support and respect to everyone’s decision is how DWU is staying unified.

“Everybody has a different thought process,” Cimpl said. “Guys believe different things. The thing I thought that came out of that conversation was whether I agree with what you do or don’t -- whether I take a knee or vice versa -- we’re still on the same team. I think ultimately, that’s what the world is about.”


The majority of Black players took a knee on DWU’s sideline, while Schwaerzler was one of a few white players to do so. Linebacker Josh Garry stood for the anthem, but wrapped his arms around the kneeling Tziah Owens and Brandon Tukes to show his support.

Garry declined to comment why he decided not to kneel. Also, when asked if he supports their message of Black Lives Matter, he declined to comment.

For T.J. Benton, a junior left tackle from Spokane, Washington, he wanted to use his platform as a college athlete to spread awareness about an issue he is not soft-spoken about.

“There’s an issue,” Benton said. “I think when you have a platform, it’s your duty to make the most out of it and try to bring attention to certain things.”

Benton is one of the most outspoken DWU players on social media, along with Owens. Both players are Black, as Owens resides from Brooklyn, New York.

In a state where 84.6 percent of the population is white and only 2.3 percent is Black, according to the United State Census Bureau, Benton feels the responsibility of making a statement on Saturdays and social media. He reiterated the statement isn’t intended as disrespect to the military. This continues to be about racism and police brutality.

“Twitter and Instagram -- all social media -- they’re an easy way to spread information quickly,” Benton said. “If one retweet or one like is the thing that’s going to spark a massive change, why not be that guy?”

Cimpl has supported his players’ choices, whether they kneel or stand. On June 16, he also tweeted out a long, strong message in support of Black Lives Matter. He discussed with his team and sought out feedback before comprising his tweet to make sure his thoughts were being conveyed accurately.


At the time, he tweeted, “I told our players I am not going to post on social media about current events just to check that box. We wanted a true and genuine message.” The last line of his message read, “We can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. DWU football and myself have only one option and that is to be part of the solution. #BlackLivesMatter”

After a 47-10 loss to Dordt (Iowa) on Saturday, his message remained the same.

“Absolutely,” Cimpl said when asked if he supports his players’ message of Black Lives Matter. “... If they need to bring attention to a change or something we feel we can be a small part of, then we feel it’s our obligation to do that. Obviously people are going to disagree with that, but if you can respect why it’s happening, then that’s the whole point.”
Whether players stand or kneel, Cimpl has stressed to his team that they’re still on the same team and to respect everyone’s opinions. Benton and Schwaerzler both said they’re OK with teammates who choose to stand.

Even if not everyone kneels, they hope fans still see a unified group that shows support for one another.

“I think as a team, it shows a unified message if we can respect everyone’s thoughts whether they kneel or whether we stand,” Garry said. “That’s why I put my arms around the players that knelt because I wanted them to know that I’m with them.”

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