PULLMAN – Gabe Marks looked out over the Glenn Terrell Mall where about 20 College Republicans were erecting a wall to honor presidential candidate Donald Trump, and a great many more students were protesting in response, and pondered the oddity of the situation.
“I didn’t expect to see that here,” Marks said, then offered that it was positive for both sides to exercise their rights to free speech and protest on campus.
Though Marks has hinted in the past that he may not be Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporter, he is not forbidden from taking part in campus demonstrations. Mike Leach, his coach, endorsed Trump at a rally in Spokane and does not discourage his players from engaging the issues, so long as it is not during football time.
“I think it’s fine. I don’t have any problem with that,” Leach said. “Freedom to experience, express and all that stuff, I’m in favor of it. Though with their participation they still have their day job.”
And it’s a pretty all-consuming day job. Just this weekend, for example, the Cougars did not return to Pullman from their trip to Tempe for the Arizona State game until 3:30 a.m. on Sunday. By Sunday afternoon, the players were already back in the football operations building for workouts and meetings.
College football players or athletes in general have rarely taken up mantle of protest in the same manner as their peers in professional sports. To be sure, that is partly due to the fact college football teams are not on the field during the playing of the national anthem, which has recently become a preferred time for NFL players to engage in silent activism.
But Marks also says that college athletes do not have the same agency as professional ones, and that their ability to use their public platform to address their preferred causes is diminished by their relative lack of power.
“College football players are more of a number than NFL players are,” Marks said. “The NCAA and schools can monitor everything that college athletes do, and their Twitter and stuff like that. It would be kind of scary to be a college athlete to try and take a stand, and your AD or coach comes and says ‘What are you doing? That’s super un-American.’
“You would probably be scared of the consequences,” he continued. “A lot of guys in college and the NFL just don’t want to get into the trouble of it because that’s a pretty big stance and there’s a lot of backlash. Kids don’t want people hating on them, let’s be honest. A grown man has more ability to say, ‘Whatever, I believe what I believe in.’”