Up the administrative ladder at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, rage boiled from one specific leader. That anger mirrored a large section of Cornhusker fans after three players knelt and protested in September prior to the team facing Northwestern.
Emails obtained by SB Nation last week show that Regent Hal Daub had correspondence with President Hank Bounds and explained that he was disgusted with the way Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry, and DaiShon Neal protested. He made it clear that the football field was not a “forum for personal, ethnic or racial grievances.”
These emails provide a timeline, from the moment Daub is informed a protest happened, to his early criticisms of it in private, to hours prior to his comments denouncing the players and their protest on public record. Two days before he publicly criticized three Nebraska players’ peaceful protests, Daub received an email.
Date: Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016 9:28 a.m.
To: Daub, Hal
Sorry to bother you but the only reason I’m emailing you is because you’re kind enough to reply back. Does the University of Nebraska athletic department have a public email address so I can email them over my concerns of the Husker players kneeling during the anthem? The players want to kneel during the anthem then I will kneel over Husker football!!! My family will boycott husker athletics as a whole not just football. I will no longer attend games and I will no longer be [in] any apparel.
On Sept. 25, a Cornhuskers fan named Daniel was seeking a public email address to express his dismay regarding protests and reached out to Daub. He said he knew Daub usually replied back to emails and that he will “kneel over Husker football” boycotting Nebraska’s athletic programs. Daub responded by saying “I object to this conduct and thank you for your loyalty.”
One minute later, Daub forwarded Daniel’s email to Bounds with a simple note: “What is the story here?” Bounds responded saying, “three players kneeled during the anthem last night.” At this point early Sunday afternoon, the Northwestern game hadn’t even been over for 24 hours and the protest had yet to make national news.
Daub quickly responded, “Names please and are they on scholarship?”
Minutes later, he received another correspondence from Daniel in which the Huskers fan said that message board chatter from military and police officers was calling for a boycott of the following Saturday’s homecoming game against Illinois, which would end Nebraska’s five decade-long sellout streak. Daniel also said he could “see a divided [locker] room coming soon.” Daub forwarded that to Bounds with the note that, “This could have legs in this conservative state I have been musing to you about, Hank.”
The next night, a Monday — after Rose-Ivey and coach Mike Riley offered public statements and Rose-Ivey revealed he received death threats and letters about being lynched — Daub again sent an email to Bounds.
Mon 9/26/2016 9:17 p.m.
To: Hank M. Bounds
Private universities can manage or ignore this conduct but we are a tax supported land grand institution so we must have standards of expectations especially for athletes that represent our state more visibly. Any scholarship athlete knowing the TV camera is there is taking advantage of their privilege and when it reflects negatively on us, they don't care. They can protest in many other ways, not in ways damaging our University reputation and reducing our credibility in the eyes of our resident taxpayers. The Coach today was not appropriate and I am personally really perplexed. Are we approving offending our flag and our military service personnel because we excuse extreme conduct that is televised? We are not a forum for personal ethic or racial grievances. Do they think they will get a Pro contract with this kind of citizenship? Is this conduct going to continue to the potential detriment of our University? The next game will tell, I really hope this has ended. It is also very disrespectful to their teammates on whom it rubs off. I will have more to say about this in the future if this fringe conduct continues to be condoned. Hank, small occurrences can get out of control. I am deeply concerned. And I am embarrassed. Hal.
Daub made good on his promise to “have more to say” about what he deemed to be “fringe conduct” on Tuesday morning when he told the Lincoln Journal-Star, among other things:
“It’s a free country, they don’t have to play football for the university either.”
"They won’t take the risk to exhibit their free speech in a way that places their circumstance in jeopardy, so let them get out of uniform and do their protesting on somebody else’s nickel," he said.
He denied saying explicitly that the players should be kicked off of the team. Bounds told SB Nation that he has not had any dialogue with other students about the situation beyond the trio. He also said he met with the players the week after the game, but did not discuss what happened during the interaction.
When asked if Nebraska handled the protests in the best way possible, even with a regent dissecting the way in which the protest transpired, Bounds could only say “yes.”
Bounds sent a letter to UNL students on Sept. 28 stating support for the athletes’ protest and told SB Nation he has had no further conversation with Daub about the situation since September.
In an interview with SB Nation, Daub doubled down on his stance, explaining that the protest done by the players and the press conference the following Monday were a “conduct issue” and not a matter of free speech. He said he didn’t attend the game where the protest happened, nor has he reached out to or met the student-athletes, but that “we can all agree” that the threats the players received were unacceptable.
Daub did specifically say, however, that “We came here to play football. We didn’t come here to do other things.”
“We’re not a private university, we are a tax-supported, land-grant institution and we have to be very careful about what [type of protest] is allowed. Whether it’s a political or social justice issues, first amendment and all of that from anyone in any way [it must be] done in a respectful way. And I think the conduct issue was disrespectful,” Daub said.
As highlighted in one of the correspondences from Daub, Nebraska’s sellout streak is sacred among many Huskers fans as a particular point of pride. Lately, many have begun to fret over when it will end. As recently as this summer, the school has struggled to fill its open season ticket packages.
On Oct. 1, in Nebraska’s first home game since the players’ protest (which occurred at a road game), it was clear their actions did not affect attendance.
This screenshot shows the crowd shortly after kickoff. The official attendance was listed as 90,374. That number was surpassed in Saturday’s game against Purdue where listed attendance was 90,546, the best attended game this season.
The Huskers remain undefeated at 7-0, their best record in 15 years. They’ve won three games since the protests, and they’re ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll. Nebraska linebacker Josh Banderas did not agree with the protests but supported his teammate protesting:
“He's a brother to us. He's been there forever. We've been with him for four years. So whatever Mike wants to do, it's important. We know he's very passionate about whatever he does. You can see by his play on the field. He's a very passionate guy. He's a brother. We respect what he does. We love him. We'll stand by him.”
* * *
After being asked what he thought about the protests in general, Riley said: “This is obviously a choice they have made for personal reasons and that's the beautiful thing about the United States that they can do that.”
Then Riley — responding to Daub’s displeasure about how the coach handled the protest from the trio of Cornhuskers — responded adamantly.
"He's entitled to say that," Riley said. "I have complete confidence in what I believe in and how I handled it within this team. It was the right thing to do — because it's their right."
Daub also privately stated to Bounds in an email that he was not happy with Riley’s conduct regarding the protests, saying, “the coach today was not appropriate.”
And Daub’s emails don’t exist in a vacuum. Of the hundreds of emails obtained by SB Nation, dozens of fans, alumni, and more Nebraskans echoed similar sentiments to what Daub explained.
Prior to Daub’s public comments, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts called the players’ protest “disgraceful and disrespectful” during his monthly live call-in radio show. Ricketts was responding to a caller from North Platte who said Nebraska officials should put the three black players on a ship and “dump them in the ocean.”
The people replying to Daub in the emails obtained come from many different backgrounds, within Nebraska or otherwise. Some work for different cities in the state, others are school teachers or retired radiologists or even lobbyists in Washington, D.C.
Others range from pastors to former regents and more. The players were offered support by many email responders. Some called for Daub to resign while others encouraged Bounds in his support for the players and for the First Amendment.
Those who were enraged with the three players were also angered by president Bounds, some calling or depicting him as a newcomer to the Heartland and someone who didn’t know much about the culture of Nebraska. One detractor also thought that since Bounds used to be in the Army National Guard, he should have better decorum.
Mon 9/28/2016 6:30 p.m.
To: Office of the President
Dear President Bounds,
I have read your statement concerning the Nebraska football player's exercising what you deem their "First Amendment rights.” You are I [sic] are the same age, but we were obviously raised differently. I have been a lifelong Nebraska citizen and you are a relatively newcomer to this state. I believe that what you are calling "Free Speech" is instead "Freedom to be Disruptive." There is a stark difference and this needs to be clarified if any student in the future will be given the same opportunity to use the UNL facilities to exercise "Free Speech," whatever his/her cause might be.
I am a parent of both a former UNL graduate and a current UNL student. I do not wish my tuition dollars nor my taxpayer funded dollars to have the University of Nebraska's facilities used for whatever purpose a particular student deems is his/her "right.” Keep the University a place for higher education instead of promoting one-sided political views. This nation has crossed the line to what was once easily considered disrepectful [sic]. Since you have served in the military, you should already have some semblance of decorum within an institution. If you are instead wanting to promote chaos, you are headed in the right direction.
One woman suggested to Chancellor Ronnie Green that American flags be handed out to the crowd as a way to counter the protest. This ignores the fact that nearly 100,000 people are already standing and singing the national anthem in unison, and that at most college football venues - Nebraska included - teams are not on the field during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Wed 9/28/2016 6:47 p.m.
To: Ronnie Green
Dear Mr. Green,
Hello, my name is Shauna [Redacted]. I am a small town Nebraska girl who wants to try and make a positive difference. I would like to share a positive thought/idea in response to the current national anthem debates.
Obviously there are many Nebraska fans who do not support the choice of three players kneeling for the national anthem. I believe just as it is [their] first amendment right to do so, and supported by the University, players and coaching staff, why not support both sides of the issue. Supply American flags to the fans at the entry gates of our next home games. They can raise them high during our national anthem. Let’s try to turn some of the negative feelings into positive. If the players can raise awareness to their cause and have your support, let the fans do the same.
Maybe this will never be seen by you or your staff, but if it is please take my idea into consideration. I have attended the University of Nebraska. I was born and raised in Nebraska. I have lived and breathed Nebraska football my entire life. There truly is no place like Nebraska. Give everyone the opportunity to voice their side of this in a positive way.
Perhaps inevitably, some Nebraska alumni and fans asked for the three to have their scholarships taken away or be kicked off the team.
Mon 9/26/2016 1:50 p.m.
To: Office of the President
I was embarrassed and appalled at how my University was displayed on national television at the football game. For any players to make the choice to sit or kneel during the playing of the National Anthem should not be accepted as a form of protest. The players of all colors are here to represent our University and our State, and their disrespectful behavior does NOT mirror our values. It not only disrespected Nebraska but had to be an embarrassment to Northwestern as well. As a daughter of a WWII veteran and sister of a Viet Nam veteran, I will never see this behavior acceptable in any situations by any persons.
At the next home game, I expect that any player who want[s] to stage an on-campus protest must have a permit and permission from University administration including you, outlining where he/she can protest just as all other University students must do. The football stadium is ON CAMPUS.
Those students and players who protest in this way should be asked to leave the football program and leave behind any scholarships since they feel so oppressed. Until this behavior stops, any and all donations and support of the University will be stopped by this 1975 UNL Alumnus. It is shameful.
Cynthia [Redacted], MSE
UNL Class of 1975
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Mark [Redacted] (email shortened)
Tue 9/27/2016 6:25 PM
To: Office of the President
My Granfather [sic] didn’t give his LIFE to have a bunch of uneducated boys, with no knowledge of AMERICAN history the right to disrespect this GREAT county. They’re total hypocrites; how about having them give up their scholarships for economic injustous [sic], well, you know that’s not going to happen. It’s obvious these Husker players haven’t any idea of what the AMERICAN people have sacrificed and died for; so they can attend the University of Nebraska.
Because of limited number of players for road trips, it’s very sad to see, these three kids were given an opportunity to EMBARRASS the State of Nebraska. What’s upsetting to me, is they took the place of three honorable players, who could have made the trip. I can’t imagine being one of those players, sitting back in Lincoln; watching this unfold on National TV.
Just have these bums print out the FBI crime records and you’ll see where the real trouble is, and I guarantee; it’s not on any football field in AMERICA.
Trust me, I’m not alone with this opinion. Send these immature boys home and let some real players play.
Lastly, when the sell out streak ends, your hat will be pinned to the footnotes of UNL history.
God Bless America,
While Daub and others have concerns for what taxpayers will think about the University system, it’s important to note that the athletic program is a separate fiscal entity. A chart from an economic impact study, published in 2014, shows revenue streams for the Nebraska athletic department:
A 2015 story from The Omaha World-Herald cited an annual report released by the athletic department. The report had Nebraska athletics operating in the black “without receiving any university subsidies or state tax dollars.”
For a sport like football, where players are offered full scholarships, the athletic department at Nebraska provides the funds. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst wrote this in a 2014 letter to fans:
“Of our 600-plus student-athletes, 164 have received full-rides during the 2013-14 academic year, meaning Nebraska Athletics pays 100 percent of their tuition and most fees, room and board, and required books.”
Nebraska is one of many programs that offer multiyear scholarships to their football players. Previously, scholarships had to be renewed annually and, per the NCAA, could be cancelled for reasons including “misconduct” when the scholarship’s term was done.
Nothing in Nebraska’s 2016-17 student-athlete handbook forbids student-athletes from protesting like the trio did.
One of the more high-profile email responders was Tonn Ostergard, a 1981 alum. Ostergard is the President & CEO of Crete Carrier Corporation, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies started in Lincoln in 1966 that has grown to 15 locations in 50 years. Ostergard also sits on the Board of Directors for Ameritas Mutual Holding Company and Ameritas Life Insurance Corporation. He serves as a member of the board of counselors of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and is also on the Board of Directors of the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Ostergard sent an email to president Bounds and chancellor Green explaining that if anyone protested in the manner of the players at his place of business, he would fire them.
My Opinion – For What It Is Worth.
To: Ronnie Green
Cc: Hank M. Bounds
I agree everyone ‘as individuals’ has the right to express their opinions and exercise “free speech”. However, when they wearing Team uniforms vs. street cloths on national television they are representing the institution and not acting as individuals. I think that is where the line is crossed. Stay in the locker room, but don’t use the stage provided by their affiliation with the University to express their personal cause and show disrespect to the Flag, the Country and the Law Enforcement that so many others hold dear. I would fire an employ [sic] who did that acting in the capacity as a representative of our Company, but would respect them doing so as an individual - even if I disagreed. On that basis I am both tolerant and inclusive, two words which have become justification for bad behavior so we don’t have any standards.
Tonn M. Ostergard | CEO
Ostergard did not return multiple phone calls and emails from SB Nation requesting comment. His company, Crete Carrier Corporation, did not respond to a request for comment and Ameritas did not return calls about Ostergard.
Daub explained that many, in private correspondence, shared his opinions when it came to separating football and protest at Nebraska. Kurt Geschwender, a middle-aged Nebraska fan and alum who sent emails to Bounds, agreed with Daub’s rhetoric.
Geschwender said that he objects to the “panty-waisted attitude” of the administration and vehemently expressed his dislike of those who allowed this protest without repercussion.
“They’re spoiled ass kids,” he continued. “Give them a forum if they want to make a public spectacle of themselves. I don’t think the forum [should be a nationally televised game], though. Hey, you can question whatever you want in your civics class. You can go out in the commons and protest there.”
Danielle Conrad, a UNL alum and Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, recognized the division between fans and alumni consuming football in their state. However, she and her organization have worked to bring attention to the police brutality offenses and poor policing seen in Nebraska.
The protests from Rose-Ivey, Barry, and Neal’s platforms shouldn’t be countered or hindered by Daub’s remarks, she said.
“We’re disappointed that public officials like regent Daub would utilize his position of prominence to criticize these student athletes who were engaged in peaceful protected First Amendment activities,” Conrad told SB Nation. “College campuses have historically been full of robust debate on these very types of issues and activities and as the leader of the university system I think that we would expect all regents to be a little more thoughtful of that historical context and the surrounding law and policies that support these students.”
Ron Clingenpeel, the first student representative ever on the Board of Regents at the University of Nebraska in 1974, was disheartened by Daub’s sentiments on this matter, disappointed that many still can’t separate their football from their beliefs.
“It’s ludicrous that a state or a representative of a state organization who is called to uphold the constitution would try to deny students’ their constitutional rights of free speech,” Clingenpeel said. “That’s inappropriate for people in that position to take a stand against allowing someone their rights. In other words, just because you are on a scholarship to play football, doesn’t mean you sign away your constitutional rights.”
SB Nation College Sports Network Manager Matt Brown and writers Kaleel Weatherly, Tim Cato, Mark Hinog and Catherine Slonksnis contributed to this story.
All of the emails obtained by SB Nation sent to and from UNL President Hank Bounds can be seen here
All of the emails obtained by SB Nation sent to and from UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green can be seen here