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Shawne Merriman: Anthem Comments From NASCAR Team Owners 'Very Discouraging'

October 3, 2017
Former NFL All-Pro and University of Maryland standout Shawne Merriman, who is now the owner of a car on NASCAR's developmental circuit, weighed in on the issue of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest during an interview on Glenn Clark Radio Sept. 27.

In light of the protests, NASCAR team owners Richard Childress and Richard Petty stated categorically that they would not support employees taking a knee during the anthem before a race. 

"That's very discouraging to see something like that, because I think that that's why we're the United States of America, to have the freedom to do these things, to express our feelings, to express some of the things we have to deal with here," Merriman, an Upper Marlboro, Md., native, said of the comments by NASCAR team owners. "… To hear something like that, to be fired for expressing how you feel or really trying to get your point across, is very, very discouraging to me."

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat for the anthem before a preseason game last August, and explained afterward that he would not "stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Kaepernick continued to kneel for the anthem after that.

Merriman, an edge rusher for Maryland from 2002-2004 who went on to play eight seasons at linebacker for the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, said he initially didn't approve of what Kaepernick did, but "to see the outrage and reactions of certain people, maybe I was a little bit naïve on some of the issues we may be having here." 

"I was opposed to it because it wasn't more of his teammates," Merriman said. "He didn't go to other guys and say, 'Hey, what do you feel about doing this?' Football and everything is a team sport. At the time, he played for the San Francisco 49ers. He plays for an organization. So you're making an individual decision in a team atmosphere. I didn't like that originally. I thought it was wrong."

Merriman said he's been to four NFL games this season and likes what he's seen recently in terms of teams locking arms as a show of unity and togetherness.

"You know what, you're brothers," Merriman said, adding he understands why kneeling for the anthem is a sensitive issue.

"Who wants to address the elephant in the room? Who wants to talk about the things that are going on to minorities and African-Americans and so forth in the country?" Merriman said. "But also, who wants to talk about the outlook, or what it may seem like in disrespecting the flag and what the flag stands for? It's a very delicate situation. So I can understand people's outrage on both sides. I just couldn't understand you having outrage, or you make a lot of noise about the problem. Then be a part of the solution."

Merriman owns Jesse Iwuji's No. 36 Chevrolet, which competes in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Iwuji is one of three African-American drivers competing under the NASCAR umbrella. Iwuji went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., played football for the Mids and is now a Lieutenant in the Navy.

One of Merriman's goals in being involved with Iwuji and NASCAR is to grow the sport. Merriman bussed kids from the Baltimore and D.C. areas to Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del., Sept. 29. A NASCAR XFINITY Series race was on Sept. 30, so kids got to be a part of a race weekend at the Monster Mile.

"[For] those who don't know much about NASCAR, kids start driving at 9, 10, 11 years old. They start that young," Merriman said. "They have the opportunity to be involved in the sport. They have the means and the resources to be involved in the sport. What I'm trying to do is get kids who probably wouldn't have the opportunity to be involved in this sport. 

"NASCAR, when you watch on TV, you just see a bunch of cars going 180 miles or 200 miles per hour around in a circle. But when you get to the track, the excitement and the enjoyment of hearing the cars and smelling the tires and seeing the excitement and energy from the crowd, that's what sparked my interest and excitement in the sport. I'm looking to do the same for other young kids that come from where I come from."

For more from Merriman, listen to the full interview here: