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Interview With Richard Berman

Aired March 1, 2003 - 08:12   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You probably heard this story. We're going to give you an update now. A basketball player at a college near New York City has her own anti-war game plan. She turns away from the U.S. flag during the national anthem and, as you can imagine, some fans are very upset.
CNN sports correspondent Mark McKay has the latest.


MARK MCKAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the beginning of the season, Toni Smith, a basketball player for Manhattanville College, decided to turn her back on the American flag during the anthem before every game. It was a form of protest and at the time, no one took notice. But what started out as silent and personal has become a national story for the senior from New York's Upper West Side.

TONI SMITH, MANHATTANVILLE SENIOR: I think too often people blindly stand up and salute the flag without thinking about all the things it means. I show support for everyone who died for this country, but I think that if the flag means to you respecting all of those who died fighting for it, you must also acknowledge all of those who were killed to build it up.

As a human being, everyone should be concerned and sensitive to the loss of any human life, whether it be in our country or other countries, and everyone should be concerned with issues that may not pertain to them.

MCKAY: Last Sunday, Smith was confronted by Jerry Kiley, a Vietnam veteran who held the flag in front of her. After the game, Kiley justified his action by saying Smith had not earned the right to disrespect the flag.

JERRY KILEY: It doesn't represent George Bush and this Iraq policy. It doesn't represent the Senate. It doesn't represent Congress. It represents the blood, sweat and tears of the American servicemen.

SMITH: My stance has nothing to do with him, with personal attacks on Vietnam veterans or any war veterans. And that if he took it that way, then that's obviously his perspective. But there are just as many people who are Vietnam veterans who support me.

MCKAY: Smith has also been able to find support from her teammates, even though they don't necessarily agree with her views.

LATASHA CARLOS, TEAM CAPTAIN: She's been a really big part of our program for the past four years and I'm proud of her.

SMITH: Although many people do oppose what I'm doing, the school hasn't stopped me from doing it. I think that agreeing to be on a team means that you're dedicated to the team's success and dedicated to playing as one, not necessarily all becoming the same person. We are all different and we all display those differences on the outside and the inside, and this is just one of my ways.

MCKAY: For CNN Sports, I'm Mark McKay.


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: So, what does the college's president have to say about Toni Smith's protest?

Let's find out.

Richard Berman joins us from the campus of Manhattanville College this morning.

Good morning to you, sir.

Thanks for being here.


How are you?

COLLINS: I'm just fine.

Listen, I want to know what the university's reaction is first. But I also want to know if you can give us sort of a sense of the rest of the students, not necessarily the team, but the rest of the students. What are they saying, as well?

BERMAN: Well, I think, again, from the college's vantage, this is really in support of any student, all students' right to express themselves as long as they do it in a very legally, obviously legally and a non-disruptive way. And we're committed to protecting that right, which makes us all proud of America and proud of the flag.

What's very interesting on our campus is that it's a very diverse campus and there are a lot of views being expressed. In fact, I think every view is being expressed. And it's being expressed and people are comfortable debating it and talking about it and it has really, really engaged our campus and our community and obviously much of the nation in a lot of very important discussion and debate about the real world.

COLLINS: So do you then think that politics and sports mix?

BERMAN: Oh, I think they do mix. At least on our campus, our student athletes are great scholars. Our student athletes have a 3.2 grade point average. They're leaders on the campus. They are people who are very much the same people who are doing community service. They may be doing internships on Wall Street. They are involved and I think it's important that all students engage and be involved.

COLLINS: You know, we're looking right now at some of the video of what happened at one of the games when a veteran came out onto the court and put the United States flag in Toni's face. Tell us a little bit about that incident.

BERMAN: Well, you know, I think it's really interesting, here's Toni Smith, who really conducts herself in a legal, very quiet, silent and non-disruptive way. And here's another individual who illegally enters, disrupts the game, intimidates somebody else and we're trying to equate which one of these behaviors do we want to encourage among our students.

COLLINS: There is a statement that Toni put out that I find interesting here. She says that, "Patriotism can be shown in many ways, but those who choose to do so by saluting a flag should recognize that the American flag stands for individuality and freedom. Therefore, any true patriot must acknowledge and respect my right to be different."

It seems like it might be a little bit of a contradiction, though, because she respects the flag and what America stands for but yet is turning her back on it. Do you see what I'm saying?

BERMAN: Well, I think there's always a contradiction and but I think the real issue here is, again, her right -- and we ought to defend her right to be able to say it and to express her view. It doesn't mean everybody has to agree with it. It's clearly not the university's position to agree with one student versus another student. We all have different perspectives. But the important thing and the wonderful thing about this country is it gives us an opportunity to express our views and that is a form of patriotism. That is patriotism.

We live in a great country, a wonderful country, probably the best in the world. And we have the ability to make it better. And only by this type of open dialogue and discussion are we going to make this a great and better country than it is.

COLLINS: All right, Richard Berman of Manhattanville College.

We do thank you for being with us this morning.


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