The Daily Evergreen

Leach inconsistent with free speech

The WSU head football coach now states he doesn't know what's being protested

JESSICA HARJA | Daily Evergreen File

JESSICA HARJA | Daily Evergreen File

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen sports columnist

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At WSU football’s news conference Monday, Head Coach Mike Leach was asked about the recent protests of the national anthem in regard to President Trump explicitly saying NFL players should be “fired” for not participating in the anthem.

His response to the question was of a similar rhetoric we have heard from Leach.

“I’ve never heard a real clear articulation of what’s being protested or what’s objected to, so I don’t know exactly the issue,” he said. “But me personally, I’m proud of this country and I would stand for the national anthem and respect the flag.”

I want to prelude this piece by stating how much I admire and respect everything Leach has done for the university and the football team. I do not want this to be lost in translation for my opposing stance on his political views.

But I — like many who love Cougar football — struggle to reconcile my feelings about Leach, who has brought the WSU football team to national relevance, while aligning his political views with those of Trump.

On one hand, Leach has progressed a thriving football culture in Pullman. The Cougars are undefeated through four weeks this season, something they have not done since 2001.

On the other hand, Leach is willing to go in front of the press and say he cannot grasp the merit of what is being protested during the national anthem at NFL games.

I find his response inconsistent to the ideals he has made clear he supports. Leach has never been one to deny any American of their First Amendment rights.
He has even gone as far as to say students should be required to take civics classes so they have a better understanding of their government and the rights they have as American citizens.

However, Leach claims to not understand a protest that exponentially took off after Trump attempted to deny the First Amendment rights of black athletes.
It seems as if the American flag, as a symbol, inherently affects Leach’s ability to see beyond his admiration for Trump and his country.

After the white supremacist marches in Virginia, I tweeted at Coach Leach asking why he was willing to hear out the supporters’ bigoted ideas. He humbly responded that he supports any American’s right to free speech.

Even in 2016, when Trump won the presidential election, Leach respected WSU students’ rights to protest his presidency.

“We’ve always had freedom of speech and the right to protest,” Leach said to the Seattle Times in 2016. “I respect their opinion and their right to protest, but I certainly should not have to hide from my opinion.”

These are statements I cannot disagree with. I support Americans’ right to free speech just as much as Leach does. However, I’m curious as to why Leach is quick to defend the right of free speech for white supremacists and students of WSU, while being hesitant to support the free speech of athletes.

Leach, a graduate of Pepperdine Law School, said in 2009 he wanted to be a lawyer that would stick up for the little guy, and keep big corporations honest.
He has yet to seize this golden opportunity while Trump continues to victimize athletes around America.

I do not expect Leach to rethink his political ideology. But, as a fellow supporter of free speech for all Americans, I do ask him to rethink his stance on the protest NFL players have chosen to participate in

.Black athletes have used their platform to speak up for social issues from the better portion of the 20th century to the present day. Still, certain individuals try to delegitimize their issues with the simple phrase, “stick to sports.”

Leach has not directly attempted to undermine any protests, but his sidestepping response certainly highlights his sympathetic feeling toward Trump’s agenda.
Well, as much as we would like to think sports live in their own nonpolitical world where conservatives and liberals break bread over competition, they do not.

The same social issues athletes are protesting are alive and well in sports just as they are anywhere else in America. They aren’t to be taken lightly.
But at the same token, neither are the impressive feats that Leach has accomplished after taking over the football program at WSU.

Scott Barnes, a Spokane native and decorated athletic director for several different universities, once referred to a university’s athletic program as the “front porch” to a school.

“Athletics are the front porch of the university,” Barnes said to the New York Times in 2009. “It isn’t the most important room in the house, but it is the most visible.”

With that in mind, Leach has a responsibility to be consistent with his ideas and his support of free speech. He represents more than just the football team, he represents the university as a whole.

For now, it seems as if the Cougar faithful is tolerant of Leach’s stance because the football team is undefeated. But maybe — and quite ironically — WSU respects Leach’s right to say whatever he believes to be true.

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Leach inconsistent with free speech