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Did They Know? Vietnam War Protest at Heart of College Football Controversy

Most teams that are grappling with controversy and issuing apologies after college football’s opening weekend are doing so because they lost (or in LSU’s case, embarrassingly lost.) The University of Central Florida is finding itself in a similarly apologetic position — albeit after a crushing 56-6 win over Kent State. Why? Well, would you believe it stems from a tragedy involving an infamous Vietnam War protest? At one point during the football drubbing that UCF was handing to Kent State on Thursday, UCF’s social media team took to the internet to gloat a bit, according to USA Today. The since-deleted post showed UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee on a sideline phone, and it was captioned “SOMEONE CALL THE NATIONAL GUARD.” For many football fans of a certain age (and likely the UCF social media administrator, as well) the post was a clear reference to retired NFL legend Shannon Sharpe. When Sharpe was part of the Denver Broncos, he and his team were beating down the New England Patriots in a 1996 regular season game (the Broncos won 34-8), and it produced one of the most iconic moments of trash-talk ever seen in sports: Sharpe, grabbing a sideline telephone, started pretending like he was talking to the President of the United States. “I called the president,” Sharpe said in the video. “President, we need the National Guard, we need as many men as you can spare, ’cause we are killing the Patriots. So call the dogs off. “Send the National Guard. Please.” Again, with perhaps the glaring exception of Patriots fans, Sharpe’s banter is as fondly remembered as any bit of trash talk in NFL history — and UCF was trying to pay homage to that. But there was just one (massive) problem: While the National Guard reference likely would’ve been viewed as the Shannon Sharpe tribute it was meant to be, had UCF been playing literally any other college football team, Kent State has a particularly dark history with the National Guard. Namely, the infamous 1970 shooting that took place at Kent State when the Ohio National Guard was brought in to quell a Vietnam War protest. When the National Guard fired into the crowd, it killed four unarmed students and injured another nine. The tragedy, in turn, sparked its own wave of protests and demonstrations. For anyone who was there during that time, it was a monumental flashpoint in terms of the discourse surrounding the Vietnam War. UCF promptly deleted the post and apologized to Kent State as soon as it realized what it had done, and issued a statement to USA Today: “An unfortunate post was made with the intention to reference the famous Shannon Sharpe sideline clip of him on the phone from a 1996 game against the New England Patriots,” the UCF athletic department told the outlet. “As soon as our staff was made aware of the unintended reference to the unfortunate event that took place at Kent State in 1970, the post was removed. “It was addressed with our staff immediately, and updated protocols have been put in place to avoid a situation like this in the future.” The UCF statement also mentioned that “Vice President and Director of Athletics Terry Mohajir has apologized to Kent State Director of Athletics Randale L. Richmond.” For UCF, the social media controversy is as bad as it got for the Knights. During the course of its dominating win, the Knights racked up 723 total yards of offense on just 81 plays — a ridiculous 8.9 yards per play average. The Knights next play at Boise State and its blue football field on Saturday. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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