Alabama A&M’s coach stands by players who knelt, but says they shouldn’t have been on the field for the National Anthem

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Over the weekend, a picture WHNT News 19 posted of several Alabama A&M Football players, kneeling for the National Anthem during the Magic City Classic, got a lot of attention on social media.

The Bulldogs are one of the first college football teams in the nation to take a knee, but it's not for the reason you might think.

We've seen the NFL do it, even the MLB, but college football has largely stayed out of the fray, when it comes to the controversial practice of kneeling for the National Anthem.

"We’ve never even had any opportunity to be involved in any type of protest," said Alabama A&M Head Coach James Spady, in a Monday afternoon news conference.

That is, until this weekend at the Magic City Classic in Birmingham.

Coach Spady says the move by select players, wasn't premeditated or planned.

“I’ve never had that conversation with my football team," says Coach Spady.

He says this shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. Whether at home or on the road, the team is usually in the locker room or in the tunnel when the National Anthem is played, and that a communication company associated with the Classic brought them out too early.

Bruno Events Team is in charge of in-game operations for the Magic City Classic. WHNT News 19 made several calls to their office to try to find out why the mix-up was made.

Only a media representative answered, and said she wasn't aware of their process for signaling the teams to come out to the field.

“For whatever reason, we were there while the National Anthem was playing and some guys made a choice, and you know what, good for you, man," he told reporters Monday.

Spady claims, even though they shouldn't have been out there, he's proud of his players.

“What they’re protesting is worthwhile to protest and if I ever feel strongly enough that I need to protest maybe I’ll take a knee too but at this point, I support what they did," he says.

Like so many of his players, Spady says the issue at the core of kneeling for the anthem, making a statement against police brutality, hits incredibly close to home.

“I’m going to get emotional when I talk about this, but I have an 18-year-old son, if he gets stopped by the police, he has a procedure that we have talked about. I have drilled him on and have trained him on how to behave when this happens and I think it’s a shame that I have to do that," said Spady.

He assures fans offended by perceived disrespect to the military or the flag, that isn't the intention.

“That’s not what it’s about. What it’s about is protesting racial injustice. Brutality for people who look like me," he says.

Intentions aside, the team is now receiving praise and condemnation for something that, Coach Spady says, never should have happened in the first place.

We plan to continue to reach out to Bruno Team Events to find out why the teams came out early, Saturday night in Birmingham.