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Isaiah Livers explains decision to kneel during anthem in opener vs. Bowling Green

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Michigan’s senior captain says he’s focused on peace.

NCAA Basketball: Bowling Green at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As the Michigan men’s basketball team lined up for the national anthem before its season opener on Wednesday night, Isaiah Livers took a knee on the free throw line.

The senior forward, who was named one of the Wolverines’ 2020-21 captains, has been vocal about social justice issues since the early stages of the summer. And after watching NBA players take a knee for the anthem in the Orlando bubble, Livers knew it was the right decision for him this season.

“I’m not holding (it against) anybody else who didn’t do the same thing, but I knew I wanted to do that,” Livers said during a Zoom call with reporters Friday. “I wanted to stand for something right. No disrespect to veterans at all, it was just something I decided to do for social injustice in our country.

“While I was kneeling, I was thinking about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, many more victims. It was just kind of heartbreaking. Once I knew that, I knew I was playing for something bigger than basketball, being like a symbol.”

After scoring 17 points in Michigan’s 96-82 win over Bowling Green, Livers received messages supporting his decision to kneel from family, friends and even a few old teachers. He told his teammates of his plans before the game, too, and they took pride in their senior captain’s choice.

“I support (Livers) in everything he does,” fifth-year senior guard Mike Smith said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and he’s a firm believer in that, so we all supported him with that.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic kept players from spending this offseason with one another in person, Livers kept in touch with other players around the Big Ten. Other athletes around the conference were moved by the idea of kneeling for the anthem this season, while some committed to doing so in a group chat.

While the Wolverines warmed up at Crisler Center before Wednesday’s tip off, they wore long sleeve white shooting shirts with Black Lives Matter patches. Each warmup had a message on the back, most notably “Say Their Names,” “Hear Us,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Unity.” Michigan’s jerseys also featured a Black Lives Matter patch above the Jordan logo on the right shoulder.

The patches, the warmups and the gestures amount to more than a message. For Livers, it comes down to change.

“It’s about peace,” Livers said. “It’s about love in this country, and that’s what I stand for.”