RIO DE JANEIRO — World sprint champion Justin Gatlin won’t be taking a knee in protest this weekend if he wins an exhibition race in Brazil.
However, Gatlin said Friday that does not mean he’s against highlighting issues of racial injustice that many NFL players are trying to raise back in the United States.
“I’m going to stand up. I mean, I going to stand up,” said Gatlin, anticipating a victory and the anthem being played. “I’m not saying if I take the knee or stand up that I’m for the protests.”
Or against them, he added.
Gatlin, who won the 100 meters in the world championships in August in a London final that included Usain Bolt, expressed mixed emotions.
He said father Willie Gatlin was a 26-year member of the Army, and he was taught military patriotism. On the other hand, as an African-American he said it was “time to put things in order” in terms of fairness and equality.
“We as Americans, we are staying away from the narrative,” he said. “And the real question is why are we staying away from the narrative.”
Gatlin’s agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, said his athlete might take a different posture were the race in the U.S., where it would get wide exposure.
“If he were at home, it might be a different stance,” Nehemiah told The Associated Press. “But I think he’s probably just here to run this exhibition race.”
Nehemiah played in the NFL as a receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, the same team that Colin Kaepernick was playing for when he started protesting last season at NFL games by not standing during the national anthem.
Nehemiah, who once held the world record in the 110 hurdles, said he would have taken a knee.
“Yeah, but I’m a rebel,” he said. “I’ll do what’s in my heart. I’m a leader, not a follower. I think if he (Kaepernick) were on my team, I think collectively we would have talked about it as a team, and we would have done it more as team.”
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