The students sat silently while the national anthem played. Many raised their fists.
Some members of the Marching Tar Heels kneeled and raised their fists during the anthem. At the end of the game, after the last-second 37-36 victory, a football player yelled “black lives matter” and defensive back Patrice Rene raised his fist into the air.
In a speech before the group walked to the stadium from Morrison Residence Hall, sophomore Jerome Simpson, who organized the event, told his fellow protesters they were to be respectful during the national anthem. They were still observing the anthem, just not standing for it.
“Obviously it’s not that we don’t want to stand — we want to stand,” Simpson said. “We just feel like right now that the ideals behind the national anthem aren’t being represented fairly.”
Simpson said he welcomes the negative reactions some have to sitting for the anthem.
“It may be from that negative reaction, we can spark the conversation and get the conversation going even more and say ‘Okay, we’re not standing for the national anthem, but why aren’t we standing? It’s because of an issue,’” he said.
“We’re not just (not) standing because we don’t want to or because we’re just being rebellious. We have a serious issue behind why we’re not standing. So let’s talk about that issue. Let’s bring light to that issue. And let’s find a solution to that issue.”
He said more protests against police brutality will be held — some at football games — and sitting during the anthem is ultimately about showing disapproval.
Last week, Simpson said, only 15 to 20 students joined him in protest at the game against James Madison. He said he wasn’t expecting such a large number this week.
“We’re getting more numbers every single week,” he said. “And it’s great to see not only people here from the African-American community but people here that are white ... you can’t see it but the diversity here is amazing.”
Simpson said the group is only protesting police brutality, not the police or military.
“I have two uncles that serve in police departments. So this is not anti-police, this is not anti-military,” he said. “This is anti-police brutality and we want to make sure that issue is talked about and highlighted.”
Junior Carrington Merritt, who attended the sit-out of the anthem, said while everyone has pride in UNC, today was about representing the voices of people who aren’t heard.
“I think today it’s really important that we’re showing up by wearing black and coming to this — not specifically in those Carolina blue colors but showing today that it’s more important we represent our community and the injustice that we’ve seen,” Merritt said.
Kaleia Martin, a graduate student in the School of Social Work who attended the sit-out, said the protest was important for the community.
“I think it’s important for us to do this to express how we’re feeling and to show solidarity within each other and for the nation to see, because this is not just happening at Chapel Hill, it’s everywhere,” Martin said.
“So it’s solidarity not only within ourselves but black people who are affected by this issue across the nation.”