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Michigan's Jim Harbaugh supports players' raising fists during anthem

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Harbaugh supports his players' anthem protest (0:52)

Jim Harbaugh says he supports his players' national anthem protest. "It's not going to keep them out of heaven," he says. (0:52)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said he supports the Wolverines players who raised their fists during the playing of the national anthem prior to the team's 49-10 home win over Penn State on Saturday.

Those Wolverines were among a group of players throughout the country who demonstrated on sidelines while the anthem played in hopes of raising awareness about social justice issues. The demonstrations, sparked by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick a month ago, have picked up steam after fatal police shootings of black men in North Carolina and Oklahoma earlier this week.

"I've been thinking a lot about this over the last four, five, six weeks," Harbaugh said after No. 4 Michigan's win. "Because I am the football coach doesn't mean I can dictate to people what they believe. I support our guys. I think this is something, it's not going away, it's gonna keep happening."

Harbaugh previously said he understood Kaepernick's motivation and his right to protest but didn't agree with the method in which the QB chose to express himself. Harbaugh coached Kaepernick in San Francisco for four seasons before coming to Ann Arbor.

Senior Jourdan Lewis, one of the Michigan players to take a stand, said a small group discussed doing something in practice during the week but didn't want to force anyone into making a decision about whether to join.

Lewis told reporters that he meant no disrespect to the country, but he felt a message needed to be delivered. He said he wanted to let the public know that there is injustice in America and he believes people of all races need to come together to search for a solution. He said he didn't know how long he or his teammates planned to continue calling attention to the issue.

"I have a platform," he said. "Regardless of anything, I'm going to stand up for injustice. That wasn't disrespecting anything. I love this university. I love this country, but things can get better."

The coach said he learned about the players' action when he returned to the locker room after the game.

Other Michigan players involved included Khalid Hill, Mike McCray, Devin Bush and Elysee Mbem-Bosse.

Harbaugh said he didn't know prior to the game that a few players planned to raise their firsts, and he added that he had not yet talked with his players about how to handle social protest or how to use the stage they are afforded as college athletes.

"I think we're a team as a country," he said. "I'll tell you what I believe in. I believe in God. I believe in country. I believe in family. I believe in rules of law and following rules. I believe as a team the things that we embrace, we should embrace.

"If something is not good for somebody on the team, then we talk about it and we get it fixed together, as a team. Those are the things that I believe. But that doesn't mean that just because I'm a football coach that I can tell other people what to believe or what to think. I support people speaking their own mind and saying what they believe."

Elsewhere this weekend, a trio of players at Michigan State raised their firsts during the national anthem. On Friday, several members of the SMU band dropped to a knee during the national anthem. That night, students at the Eastern Michigan football game in Ypsilanti, Michigan, protested on the field because of racist graffiti that appeared on campus during the week.