Some Lyco players try to raise awareness during anthem

Some Lycoming players, including Dante Gipson (25) raise fists during the national anthem before their home game Saturday. MITCH RUPERT/ Sun-Gazette

Friday night phone calls from Mike Clark’s players at Lycoming usually aren’t filled with good news. This particular one, though, back in late September was different.

Running back Dante Gipson had an idea he wanted to run past the Warriors’ head coach. The sophomore was keenly aware of the back-and-forth between NFL players and president Donald Trump regarding protests during the national anthem of NFL games. It was an issue which close to home for Gipson.

He had a statement he wanted to make about the issue which continues to polarize the country, but he wanted to run it past his coach first. Gipson, an African-American from New Jersey, wanted to raise a fist during the national anthem of Lycoming football games. He explained to Clark his reasoning and Clark gave his approval.

Gipson has been raising a fist during the national anthem ever since. Last Saturday, prior to Lycoming’s final home game against Misericordia, Gipson and six of his teammates stood together with fist raised during the anthem.

“To me, when you make a fist, all the fingers of your hand have to come together,” Gipson said following Saturday’s game. “I feel like everyone in the country should all come together in the same way.

“We notice everything going on in the NFL and with Donald Trump and his tweets to the NFL. We know it’s not necessarily directed toward us, but it hits our heart that we see issues in our country that aren’t being dealt with and instead we’re dealing with stuff that shouldn’t matter as much. That’s why we do it.”

Clark, who is also Lycoming’s Director of Athletics, was appreciative of the phone call and the willingness to have a discussion about the topic. More than anything else, he didn’t want to be surprised by anything the players decided to do, especially in the wake of players being dismissed from the team at Albright for either kneeling or not kneeling during a team-planned demonstration.

The three players at Albright have since been reinstated to the team, but Clark remains steadfast on having discussions about anything the players wish to do, which continues to happen.

“He’s a really mature kid and has a really great perspective,” Clark said of his initial discussion with Gipson. “He offered his explanation to me and I said I’m good with that. At the end of the day, we’re a team. And I appreciate the fact that those guys were mature enough to ask me and talk about it.”

Receiver Brock Zollicoffer, an African-American from Maryland, who also has been raising a fist during the anthem, said he and his teammates understand they don’t have a platform like those in the NFL to truly make a difference. But it was important to him to let people know they have opinions and feelings on the matter at hand.

“We’re just trying to raise awareness. That’s all we want to do,” Zollicoffer said. “This is something I’m doing for myself because it makes me feel good. It let’s me know that I stand for something.”

Clark said there’s no way he can relate to how Gipson, Zollicoffer or any other African-American feels. But that’s part of the reason he’s had discussions with his players who have chosen to quietly make a statement during the national anthem.

Clark has given the players his full support and invited them to have even more discussions should they want to do more.

“I’m a 45-year-old white guy. I can’t relate to what it’s like to grow up as an African-American. But I know they’re good kids and if they’re supporting a cause that is gaining a lot of momentum nationally, I’m going to support our kids,” Clark said. “They explained it to me logically and I support what they’re doing.”

“With all that’s going on in this world, I respect what they’re doing and it’s no issue at all on our team,” said team co-captain Mike Ward. “I praise it.”

Gipson has been appreciative of the support he’s received from both his teammates and his head coach. He’s been raising a fist during the anthem for the better part of a month now and continues to do so.

“Our team, we jell together very well,” Gipson said. “One of the things I appreciate about this team is everyone here is sensitive to how everyone else feels. That’s just one of the reasons we’ve been able to play well this year.”