Jim Harbaugh Is Not A Food Critic

Submitted by Ace on August 30th, 2016 at 3:28 PM

[Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]

Jim Harbaugh is the first person to admit he's obsessed with football. Everything else is secondary. This is a man who traveled to Paris with his wife, went to a Mexican restaurant that appears to be decent but by no means world-renowned, and declared it the best restaurant while also boiling down his personality into a damn near perfect tweet.

Harbaugh is a blunt instrument. He doesn't get sick. He doesn't take holidays. He's a jackhammer. We know this.

Harbaugh also has strong ties to the military. One of his oldest, closest friends is retired Marine colonel Jim Minick, who now serves at Michigan's director of football operations. He has a well-documented history of bringing in military officers to speak to his teams. He stops by Omaha Beach while on vacation. He welcomes servicemen into his office and genuinely looks more excited to take a photo with them than vice versa.

Which brings us to yesterday. Harbaugh emerged from the fall camp submarine—his term; he's also referred to it as a "bunker"—to address the media for the first game-week press conference of the season. Harbaugh is well-known for his unpredictable, off-the-cuff answers in pressers (not to mention on Twitter). We have a "jim harbaugh says things he probably shouldn't" tag, and the proprietor of this site has described him as "being himself at maximum volume at all times" on multiple occasions.

The odds that Harbaugh had the time or inclination to seriously ponder Colin Kaepernick's protest of the national anthem before the press conference are exceedingly low. This is a football coach known for being way more football-obsessed than even the average football-obsessed football coach. He's briefly emerging from three weeks of fall camp and its four-hour practices and endless film study to talk about the Hawaii game. He's probably aware of the basic details of Kaepernick's protest, but that's not anywhere close to his primary focus. He's thinking about his team, preparing for Hawaii, and not letting on anything about the ongoing quarterback competition.


Fifteen minutes into a twenty-minute presser, Harbaugh is asked about Kaepernick. This is how our press conference correspondent, Adam Schnepp, transcribed the exchange:

As someone who knows Colin Kaepernick, what do you think about his stance to sit during the Anthem, and do you think it will cost him his job with the 49ers?

“I acknowledge his right to do that, but…I don’t respect the…the motivation or the…or the action.”

He pauses three times in that one sentence, which stands in stark contrast to the rest of the presser. The video shows a man who is searching for the right words and isn't quite sure he found them:

Harbaugh went off-the-cuff, which is his nature. He didn't choose his words carefully.

Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, has spent a great deal of time thinking about his motivation and his action. After the media picked up on his protest, he spent 18 minutes discussing in detail why he won't stand for the national anthem. Before that, he addressed the 49ers in a players-only meeting, one that teammates described as both "productive and informative." At least one player whose initial reaction mirrored Harbaugh's emerged from the meeting with a different mindset:

“To be honest with you, I took offense to it,” 49ers center Daniel Kilgore said upon learning Kaepernick opted not to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner out of protest for what he sees as injustice for minorities in the United States.

“But after Kap stating his case today, and seeing where he was coming from, I do stand with Kap when he says, ‘Enough is enough against crime and the violence, discrimination and racism.’

“I believe enough is enough. I can see where people would think it’s bad with the national anthem and the military. For me, I’m going to stand there every time. I’m going to think about and honor those who are fighting and those who have fought, my family members, my friends. If Kap decides not to, that’s his decision.”

While Kilgore may not be joining Kaepernick in protest, he acknowledges and understands the impetus behind it, and that is a critical distinction.

Harbaugh, unlike Kilgore, didn't talk to Kaepernick this week. My assumption, based on Harbaugh's reaction and that of many others, as well as his background, is that he viewed Kaepernick's protest as a disrespectful act to the military, to which the flag and the anthem are inextricably linked; just look at Michigan's upcoming military appreciation festivities for the UCF game, which will feature "two large American field flags [that] will be held by over 150 veterans and service members" during the anthem among several other military tributes. I doubt he'd considered Kaepernick's pointed views on police violence, not to mention his direct experience with it:

-Q: Have you ever been pulled over unjustly or had a bad experience in that regard?

-KAEPERNICK: Yes. Multiple times.

I mean, I’ve had times where one of my roommates was moving out of a house in college and because we were the only black people in that neighborhood, the cops got called and all of us had guns drawn on us. I mean, came in the house without knocking, guns drawn, on one of my teammates and roommates.

So I have experienced this. People close to me have experienced this. This isn’t something that’s a one-off case here, a one-off case there.

When Harbaugh initially said he didn't respect Kaepernick's "motivation," he unwittingly invalidated the very real issues that Kaepernick is addressing with his act of protest. It was one of the worst possible word choices.  Immediately after the press conference ended, he corrected that error:

If Harbaugh had said that initially, he wouldn't be in the midst of a media firestorm, or at least not one that's nearly this heated. While he still takes exception to Kaepernick's action, that's a position that doesn't invalidate years, decades, centuries of America's history, as well as the present state of relations between police and minorities in many parts of this country.

You may still disagree with Harbaugh. Kaepernick's protest is nonviolent, even nonintrusive—he sat for the anthem in the first preseason game, too, and nobody noticed—and when the media picked up on it, it sparked a nation-wide conversation that's led to some remarkable revelations. I majored in history; without Kaepernick's protest, I wouldn't be aware of the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner. That appears to be the case with one of Harbaugh's star players, Jourdan Lewis, as well. If the goal of protest—a deeply American act dating back to the very genesis of this country—is to raise awareness of issues and drive change, Kaepernick hit the mark; again, look at the reaction from his teammates after the players-only meeting.

You may still disagree with Kaepernick, too. The national anthem and the flag are symbols that, for many of us, stand for freedom, equality, and the sacrifices so many have made to uphold those values. Kaepernick's freedom of expression extends to his critics, and they have a valid point, too: many, many people have died fighting for the country and values that flag symbolizes, and Kaepernick's actions can be interpreted as disrespect of that country and those values in that context. I can't know for sure, but it's quite possible Harbaugh feels that way.

This is all well and good as long as there's an acknowledgment that this discussion has valid opinions on both sides. Harbaugh's initial statement didn't leave room for that. His clarification did.

In an ideal world, Harbaugh would've been prepared to address the issue—the question wasn't hard to see coming—and better express his true feelings on the matter, or acknowledge that he wasn't ready to address it and put forth a no comment. His brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, had thought through his answer enough to quote Voltaire when asked about Kaepernick:

"Voltaire so eloquently stated, 'I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend it until death your right to say it,'" John Harbaugh said. "That's a principle that our country is founded on. I don't think you cannot deny someone the right to speak out or mock or make fun or belittle anybody else's opinion."

Jim Harbaugh, however, is a blunt instrument. He answered the question. By his own admission, he missed the mark.

I hate when people tell sports figures to stick to sports. These are people with experiences and opinions that are often quite valuable, and they have a larger platform than most. Context matters, though. Jim Harbaugh is not a food critic. He is not a politician. He is not a social commentator. He is a football coach. We shouldn't be surprised that he sounded like one when asked to address a complicated, nuanced, and controversial social issue in between questions about the depth chart and this season's schedule.



August 30th, 2016 at 6:20 PM ^

This thread just reinforces that A LOT of us need to get our info from multiple sources and question what is fed to us by the media.


August 30th, 2016 at 7:18 PM ^

However recent politics have not brought this country together ... things are way worse. It's all about division so you need government "leaders" to take care of you and cuddle you and give you stuff.

My grandparents left that thinking in Europe. From their 90 year old mouths ... they are sick to their stomachs and worked too hard for this country to go this direction. Yes, they speak English ...dah. They desire a county based upon God, integrity, freedom, and hard work for the country you respect and they ask .. what can I do for you America .. should I sit like Colin?

Bando Calrissian

August 30th, 2016 at 6:25 PM ^

I like you all so much more when we're not dropping bizarro hot takes about politics and current events. Which are kind of amazing for a board centered around one of the best universities in the world. Just my take...


August 30th, 2016 at 6:44 PM ^

Got his facts straight? Just saying .. if that battle wasn't won, he couldn't make such comments.

Does he not get it ... we want peace but it's earned. We want equality but some don't get it. Don't tread on America for its problems. Support the freedoms of the country.

So quit football and make a difference. Help an oppressed African country. Has he experienced that ... he could just sit DOWN there.

How disrespectful to those that died and gave him the right to be so twisted.


August 30th, 2016 at 7:09 PM ^

Who gives a shit, it's the goddamn USA, Collin K is the one doing the wrong, not Coach. He obviously doesn't support his action, which he said. Let's play football

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August 30th, 2016 at 7:36 PM ^

I don't understand why there was controversy in the first place.  I guess I didn't read into what exactly coach said because I already assumed he meant what he ended up clarifying.  Today's media is way too tabloid......

Perkis-Size Me

August 30th, 2016 at 7:49 PM ^

Harbaugh may have not chosen the right words, but he's human. It happens. He acknowledged that he made a mistake, apologized, and moved on.

I know this board has a strict no politics rule, and that's one of many reasons why I love coming here. But this country is filled with so many people who are so easily offended it's sometimes just pathetic. Everyone has to be so damn politically correct all the time, especially those in positions of authority who receive any kind of media coverage. One little slip and they get crucified as an intolerant, indignant racist beyond any hope of forgiveness. It's not a perfect world, but it's the only one we've got. Lighten the fuck up.

I don't necessarily agree with Kaepernick's point of view, but he's entitled to his beliefs. This country is built on the idea of being able to have your own opinions on the environment around you without having to worry about getting thrown in jail, tortured, or publicly executed. He has as much of a right to sit during the anthem as those who have the right to call him an ungrateful asshole with no respect for those who fought and died for their country.

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August 30th, 2016 at 10:40 PM ^

If he makes 10+ million a year and wants to make positive change he could set up programs, scholarships, set up/attend awareness groups, etc. Or he can pay someone to do that for him and still be making 10+ million a year. I whole heartedly believe his actions have created more segregation than anything else, despite how good his intentions may be.


August 31st, 2016 at 9:02 AM ^

Maybe CK was looking to impress his new girlfriend, maybe he's at the end of his football career, maybe his recent conversion has warped his perspective but now if his publicity stunt has any backlash on Harbaugh, I for one think that is a real shame.  CK's best football was played for Jim Harbaugh, under the coaching and motivation of Jim Harbaugh.  Jim Harbaugh exudes hard work and dedication towards shaping and making things better around him.  

I for one agree with Jim's initial assement in that I don't agree with his motivations.  His motivations appear to be personal and self-aggrandizing.  

And I agree with you (Fezzik) - above whole heartedly.  With the money CK has made, if he wanted to go about this in a positive and self-less way, he would be dedicating his time and money to productive and positive actions, not this.  This only creates noise, it only creates division.  

This is clearly an insult directed at the United States of America.  I don't think there is any doubt that Harbaugh would take offense to this. 

Hotel Putingrad

August 31st, 2016 at 12:34 AM ^

I only got about 100 replies in, so apologies if someone made this point already. But I doubt Harbaugh misspoke. Rather, he was using the word motivation in the context of Kaepernick having chosen to draw attention to himself in a predictably inflammatory manner rather than say, penning an open letter, or granting a long form interview. Unfortunately, the agitated audience is wrongly trying to conflate Harbaugh's use of the word motivation with a presumption of disbelief vis-a-vis the actual issue that originally aroused Kaepernick's conscience. This is a critical distinction. Harbaugh is the team, the team, the team. Kaepernick appears cut from a different cloth (or unimaginably naive). He also does not appear to have given the issue as much thought as he claims, given the rambling interview he did give and the nonsensical allusions to the country's presidential candidates. The injustices and offenses which he is protesting have long predated and will long outlast 2016. Regardless, I'm honestly surprised Ace didn't just give a brief post to the effect that, "we're aware of Coach's comments and are not discussing them because we're focused on Hawaii." What's good for the gander is good for the goose, n'est-ce pas?


August 31st, 2016 at 1:40 AM ^

This is outside the scope of this blog. I do not come to this site for this kind of commentary. I appreciate and respect your guys' knowledge of Michigan football and football in general, but this is not what this site is about, and this story is irrelevant. No politics


August 31st, 2016 at 8:20 AM ^

This post and the comments confirm what I thought as soon as I saw the comment:

People really, REALLY like to overreact about every little thing Jim Harbaugh says.

Walter Sobchak

August 31st, 2016 at 8:25 AM ^

It's really our right to criticize Kap. To me, I AM America in a sense. My family IS America. My GI grandparents, my dad the small business owner, my mother the public employee. To insult America and be disrespectful is insulting to alot of us. He's not going to change people's minds by insulting them.


August 31st, 2016 at 9:39 AM ^

Remember Walter Scott?  That's the kind of thing CK is talking about.


Then there's the Justice Department reports on Baltimore, Ferguson, New Orleans and so many other towns establishing systemic law enforcement racism.

If you care to do some research you'll find good academic studies on racism in housing, real estate, lending, job hunting (drug tests make a black applicant more likely to get a job because employers assume they will fail without one), who gets the death penalty, who gets suspended from school, who gets charged with certain crimes, who gets harsher sentences. 

The fact that racism exists shouldn't be controversial. 


August 31st, 2016 at 11:00 AM ^

a social commentator but Kaepernick is? This is not the place for a deep dive into this issue but the wholesale indictment of the entire country reveals Kaepernick is part of the problem.


August 31st, 2016 at 12:18 PM ^

Ace - I've been a reader since 2006 when I knew nothing about football and had to figure out how to talk to other freshmen males on my West Quad floor.

Thank you for writing this. This is what I expect to see come from MGoBlog when it comes to analysis beyond stats. Thank you for all of the work and soul you put into this blog.

For those who are "turned off" by this piece or think it has no place. I even see some people say this blog shouldn't be critical... Don't read the piece. Read the coverage of 2016 Tight Ends.... Or read it and get made or upset or sad.... your choice. 

Either way - this is totally something this blog should write. To say they shouldn't write a piece like this because its critical of Harbaugh or off topic ignores allllllllll of the great reporting on Brandon and Hoke - much of which was not ABOUT THE GAME and was much more in line with this. 

Again, thank you Ace. 


August 31st, 2016 at 12:38 PM ^

At a minimum, this issue was prominent on Deadspin and Uproxx yesterday. Millions of page views on those sites ona a daily basis.

And the idea that this blog shouldn't be critical of Harbaugh or Michigan is... The best thing about this blog is its commitment to honesty, even when it hurts like Hell to read it.


August 31st, 2016 at 1:17 PM ^

I must be dead inside, because I'm having trouble being outraged about anything having to do with l'affaire Kaepernick or Harbaugh. Get outraged about an NFL player's quiet protest or a football coach's off-the-cuff response to it during a presser? I wish I had that much room in my outrage reservoir.

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August 31st, 2016 at 3:26 PM ^

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August 31st, 2016 at 6:54 PM ^

So, uh, are we going to address the fact that Kaep wore a Fidel Castro T shirt to his presser? So I guess if you're backing him then you're good with all that torture and everything that was going on in Cuba?

Yeah, Kaep is a POS and is just spitting out whatever his "activist" g/f tells him to (yeah, all of this started after they started dating... Hmm...)

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