Amid the furor and controversy over NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem last season, it’s quite likely that more than a few folks wondered if the former San Francisco 49er would have gotten away with his antics in a different era.
Well, the question was put to NFL Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Steeler running back Franco Harris on John Ziegler’s radio talk show — and Harris made no bones about it.
As part of the formidable Steelers dynasty of the 1970s — Super Bowl champions four times in that decade — Harris said that in those days an anthem protest like Kaepernick’s wouldn’t have been handled by the head coach. Instead, it would’ve been handled by the players.
Harris said two fellow Hall of Famers — linebacker Jack Lambert and defensive lineman “Mean” Joe Greene — would have had, shall we say, a few words for Kaepernick. And that would’ve been that.
“We had two of the meanest guys in football who I think would have dealt with it that way,” Harris told Ziegler.
Indeed Lambert was famously quoted as saying at one point, “We should put dresses on quarterbacks.”
Harris added during the interview that he believes Kaepernick has the right to express whatever beliefs he wants — but to use the NFL as a platform and bringing his teammates and fans into it was wrong.
“You stand for the flag,” Harris said. “And … we are all behind the flag. … But when he puts on that suit, when he steps out on that field, now it’s more than just him. It’s his teammates, it’s the NFL, and it’s the fans. And when he puts that suit on it is not just about him and his position and the things that he wants to back and he wants to believe in. Because the team has to come first.”
He added: “And if he wants to make statements, take a position, then that’s fine. Absolutely, go do that. But there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it after practice … on another platform than doing it with his suit on and at the stadium.”
Here’s the interview. The relevant portion begins just after the 35-minute mark: