Nick Saban played defensive back at Kent State in the early 1970s before becoming a graduate assistant there and going on to what’s become a legendary coaching career. Saban’s Alabama hosts Kent State on Saturday, so Saban got a couple questions this week about his history at the small Ohio school. One sticks out, in particular.
Saban was at Kent State on May 4, 1970, when National Guardsmen fired on a crowd of students protesting American involvement in the Vietnam War. Four students died, all between 19 and 20 years old. The shootings made international news and spawned Ohio, the song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young that Neil Young sang during the war. May 4 became one of many flashpoints in the American debate over Vietnam.
Saban’s remarks, in full:
I think it was certainly to that point in my life, one of the most traumatic experiences, I think, that I'd ever had to deal with. To have students on your campus shot, killed – and actually, didn't see it happen, but saw the aftermath, right after it happened. It’s made me have a lot of appreciation for a lot of things. It actually made me appreciate the fact that law and order is very important, but it also made me appreciate the fact of what those students were trying to express, in terms of the Vietnam War and the demonstrations that they were having.
And the confrontation that occurred was unnecessary. There's a film out of it actually happening. I don't know if you've ever had the opportunity to watch it. But they had already tear gassed the crowd. There’s martial law, so you couldn't have the meeting, so Monday noon, they had a meeting anyway, or a gathering. It was kind of over, and the National Guard was kind of marching up the hill, and all of a sudden they wheeled around and kind of fired into the crowd.
Nobody could ever figure out quite how that happened. It seemed pretty unnecessary. But I had class with one of the students that were killed, Allison Krause. I didn't know her or anything that well, but it was a pretty chilling experience and something that makes you view things a little bit differently and certainly have a much better appreciation of not taking for granted life itself.
And it probably had more to do to stop the war in Vietnam than anything that happened, unfortunately for the students."
I’ve often found Saban’s commentary on social issues and general non-football things to be refreshing. This definitely isn’t an exception.