US Winter Olympic athletes were as divided as the nation on NFL player protests during the US national anthem in the wake of comments by Donald Trump.
Remarks and tweets by Trump insulted NFL players who kneeled during pre-game renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to follow Colin Kaepernick’s protest move from last season over racial discrimination to African-Americans.
That led to most NFL players locking arms with each other and owners on Sunday in protest of Trump’s free speech put-down, more players than ever electing to kneel after Trump said players should be fired for insulting the nation.
US Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun backed the protests and supported athletes’ freedom of expression.
“I think the athletes you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves.”
While noting the Olympics ban all forms of demonstrations, he added, “we certainly recognise the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”
Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists from the medal podium during the US anthem at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, calling it “a seminal moment not only for the Olympic movement but for the US Olympic team.”
Three-time US women’s figure skating champion Ashley Wagner, a 2016 world runner-up and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, proudly supports the song she wants to hear on medal podiums.
“Hearing that anthem means I’ve had a really great day and I have nothing but great things to say about it,” Wagner said.
Wagner, 26, is the daughter of a US Army colonel and was born on a base in Germany, one of 10 places she called home as a child and self-described “Army brat.”
“To me it represents all the men and women who have fought for the flag when it waves,” Wagner said of the US anthem.
“I also recognise not everybody has that experience when they are hearing the anthem. Freedom of speech is one of those rights they are fighting for. If you choose to use it, more power to you. I have nothing but respect for that.”
But also added, “I don’t think the opinion of a figure skater matters that much.”
Julia Mancuso whose US women’s Alpine ski record haul of four Olympic medals included 2006 giant slalom gold, also backed those who had the courage to take action.
“One of the proudest points of being an American is freedom of speech and I’m really proud of our athletes speaking up for what they believe in,” Mancuso said.
But she also said that “when it comes to the Olympics, I would like to think it’s a special event, not like pro sports teams that compete every weekend.”
And teammate Laurenne Ross said a protest move in a ski event wouldn’t shock her.
“Part of me would be proud of that person for standing up or kneeling for their rights and using their voice,” she said.
“Part of me would be a little bit heartbroken that we’re being torn as a nation and we’re doing these actions that make us seem we’re not one anymore.”
US men’s Olympic hockey coach Tony Granato, whose team for Pyeongchang will not include NHL players, noted the Olympic ban on protests and the disruptive nature of protests to team focus, saying, “Any situation like that, I don’t foresee it happening.”
“I’ve always stood for the national anthem. And I always will,” said African-American Jordan Greenway, a Boston University forward and likely US Olympic hockey player.
Troy Terry, a forward for US college champion Denver and likely Olympian, won’t be following the NFL lead either.
“You won’t see me taking a knee for the national anthem or anything like that,” Terry said. “We’ll be so worried about the hockey that we won’t be worried about things like that.”