Every single American has an opinion on National Anthem protests in the NFL -- most notably the President. Those opinions typically fall in two camps:
1) The protests are disrespectful to the military and, thus, are un-American.
2) The meaning of the National Anthem spans more than just the military, and therefore the protests have nothing to do with the military.
While we all have our opinions, very few of them matter. An exception to that rule: Nick Saban.
There isn't a great reason why Saban's opinion matters more than most anyone else's other than the fact that he's Nick Saban, but that's a good reason in and of itself. Everything Saban says comes with the force of a well-considered stance behind it, especially in matters beyond X's and O's since Saban so rarely steps outside the white painted lines. And while this has become a national issue, it's an issue that started in football a 116-13 record in the last nine seasons and counting speaks for itself on a football matters.
The topic came up on Saban's radio show last night (profiled wonderfully for USA Today by George Schroeder here) and rather than pull a Belichick -- "On to Ole Miss -- Saban engaged on the topic and provided an answer that may surprise you.
"I don't think that what these people are doing is in any way, shape or form meant to disrespect a veteran or somebody like yourself who has so worked hard, fought so hard, sacrificed so much to have a quality of life that we want to have," Saban said, via AL.com. "One of the things that you also fought for and made sacrifices for was that we all could have the freedom to have choice in terms of what we believe, what we did, what we said. So, this is not something that ... look, I respect people's individual rights."
College coaches have thus far been largely insulated from the ongoing controversy -- though that may be changing -- due to the fact that players are typically do not take the field until after the Anthem. Saban didn't go as far as to say what he would do if Alabama wanted to do some sort of demonstration.
"I have my opinion in terms of what I would do and how I would do it and I'm not one to ever disrespect the symbols that represent the values of our country," Saban said. "But I also respect individual differences that other people have and I think they have the right to express those. Whether it's our players or somebody else, whether I agree or disagree, I think they have a right to do that."
It's a bit odd to see Saban in one paragraph say that protests are not "in any way, shape or form" a sign of disrespect to veterans and then imply that kneeling for the Anthem would "disrespect the symbols that represent the values of our country." But credit goes to Saban for engaging on an issue that, like or not, is the hottest flashpoint in American culture in this moment. Too often coaches talk about how they are "teachers first" and "leaders of men" in calm waters and then insist they are "just a football coach" when the surf starts to get choppy.
Saban didn't do that here.