DETROIT – Sometimes, the smallest gestures have the biggest impact.
Every Big Ten team planned to recognize the one-year anniversary of 9/11 in some way this week. The gestures are heartfelt and sincere, but many college football teams already have been doing one small thing that perhaps speaks louder.
Since 9/11, teams now stand on the sidelines while the national anthem is played. For years, this display was absent from college football. But now that Americans have a renewed reverence for the flag and the anthem, coaches have brought the tradition back.
But maybe more noteworthy, the practice is continuing this year. Teams easily could have abandoned it after last season, but coaches wanted it to become part of the game, as it was when many of them played.
“In my mind, we’re still under siege as a country,” said Michigan State coach Bobby Williams, who made it a permanent policy to keep his players on the sidelines for the national anthem. “We need to recognize that and honor the victims.”
Williams decided his team always would be present for the anthem after the Spartans played at Notre Dame last season, which was the first weekend of play following 9/11. The emotion displayed by his players convinced him that this could be a small way of showing support.
“They were singing the national anthem with all 80,000 fans,” Williams said of the experience at South Bend. “I looked, and several guys had tears in their eyes. To see the emotional effect it had on the team made me realize the impact it had on our team.”
Many coaches played during an era when it was unacceptable not to be on the field for the anthem. But increased television coverage helped change that. Pregame activities became a scripted production, and the networks wanted to show the teams running onto the field but not take time for the anthem.
“When I was a high school player, the teams were always on the field for the national anthem,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who has continued to have his players on the field for the anthem. “I always thought it was a great experience.
“Television, the timing of the bands and getting on and off the field, those things impacted the decision” not to have players out there. “Until last year, for a number of years, I don’t remember ever being out there for the national anthem. I think it’s a wonderful thing for them to experience and positive for everybody at the game to hear that great anthem and be a part of it.”