Jim Harbaugh supports protesting Michigan players

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh offered support for Wolverines players who raised their fists in protest during the national anthem prior to the Wolverines' 49-10 win over Penn State Saturday.

"I can tell you what I believe, but I've been thinking a lot about this over the last four, five, six weeks. Because I'm the football coach, that doesn't mean I can dictate to people what they believe. I support our guys," Harbaugh said, according to ESPN. "This is something that's not going away. It's going to keep happening. It's not something that's going to keep them out of heaven. I'm not going to worry about something that doesn't keep somebody out of heaven, speaking their minds."

No fewer than seven Michigan players raised their fists, including a top draft prospect in Wolverines defensive back Jourdan Lewis, according to mlive.com. Other Wolverines identified included Mike McCray, Khalid Hill, David Dawson, Channing Stribling, Devin Bush and Elysee Mbem-Boss. Michigan State players Delton Williams, Kenney Lyke and Gabe Sherrod did the same Saturday prior to a home game against Wisconsin. It was the latest extension of support for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose decision not to stand for the national anthem since the preseason has generated a national discussion about social injustices and spawned more gestures of protest by athletes during the national anthem.

Harbaugh's reaction to his players' decision was quite different than the one he had regarding Kaepernick. Asked about Kaepernick's decision not to stand initially, Harbaugh, who formerly coached Kaepernick with the 49ers, indicated he understood the motivation, but did not respect the action. In August, Kaepernick told NFL.com's Steve Wyche that he was motivated by the oppression of African-Americans.

The Spartans' Sherrod took to Twitter earlier this week to explain his choice:

"To me, your patriotism, your faith are sort of the same -- that's your choice. And it's influenced by what you've experienced in this world. So whether somebody salutes or puts a hand over their heart, everybody has a choice to make," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said on Saturday, according to ESPN. "I guess they have decisions that people have to make. As long as it's done in a peaceful way, this is America. That's what the flag stands for. It stands for the freedom to do what you need to do. That's the beautiful thing about this country.

"At some point in time, when the true enemy comes, I guess we'll all stand together. But I can't make assumptions for our players, for what they've gone through in their lives. All I can do is try and lead the best way I can and be positive and accepting toward our football team and our players. When we come together after the national anthem, we come together in solidarity, and I think that's what's important."

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread*.

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