University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh’s full-throated support for American Sniper that united even Ohio State fans behind him divided his own campus, say the student leaders who pushed to ban the Academy Award-winning film at the Ann Arbor school.
“I personally believed the coach polarized campus,” Michigan senior Sumana Palle told Breitbart Sports. “This issue is not American versus un-American, it’s about the safety of Muslim students on campus. By having such a popular figure twist the issue into something it wasn’t about, I think he unintentionally framed the groups that spoke out against the screening of the film as un-American and anti-free speech.”
On Wednesday, a day after the University of Michigan agreed to pull a planned student screening of American Sniper, Harbaugh tweeted out his love for Chris Kyle and his country, and announced that he planned to show the film to his players. He added that “if that offends anybody then so be it!”
Miray Philips, a leader of the school’s Middle East and Arab Network majoring in psychology and sociology, told Breitbart Sports that the coach’s tweet provided “a clear example of how the university so blatantly values football over their student’s (especially minority student’s) voices.”
Soon after announcing the ban, the university reversed course. The school ultimately screened the film, alongside Paddington, for interested students on Friday evening. The Michigan Daily reports that while Paddington played to a mostly empty room, American Sniper attracted 100 students and no protest.
More than 25 campus organizations, including Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, Students for Choice, and Diversity Forum, voiced their objections to American Sniper by writing in a letter that “the film is nowhere near entertaining and, in fact, ennobles the dehumanization and systematic racism against” Muslims, Middle Easterners, and North Africans. The letter accused the university of “fostering a poisonously fearful environment for the free expression of Muslim and/or [Middle Eastern and North African] students” by responding to public outrage by playing the movie.
Student activists, including those unwilling to be quoted for this article, characterized the campus climate as unsafe for Muslim students in the wake of the controversy. The national figure weighing in on the local matter clearly sparked resentment among student activists fighting to block American Sniper.
Harbaugh, a former Wolverines quarterback so popular in Ann Arbor that he recently placed fourth in elections for student government president despite losing his eligibility for the office 28 years ago, now hears boos in the shadow of the Big House before coaching his first game.
Sumana Palle, a leader of the University of Michigan’s Shakti organization, which seeks “to build long-term, sustainable relationships with marginalized communities of color, with an emphasis on communities of color,” lamented that Harbaugh “made it a censorship issue.”
“No one was saying the film should be banned entirely,” the Michigan senior reasoned to Breitbart Sports. “People were saying that U-Mix [a weekend social outlet for students] was an inappropriate setting for it, which many people thought was a very reasonable thing. He made the request for safety seem crazy and un-American and unintentionally galvanized support against the students of color who expressed concern and that is not okay at all.”