It took "about one minute" for Navy's captains to realize the insensitivity of the team's motto, Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. (Tommy Gilligan/AP)

Navy’s football coach and players apologized Saturday after quickly changing a motto for the 2019 season — “Load the clip” — that was deemed inappropriate and insensitive in a community still recovering from a fatal shooting last year in the Capital Gazette newsroom, only a few miles from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“It was a one-minute meeting,” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said during Navy’s football media day and fan fest Saturday (via the Capital Gazette). “I explained that some people had deemed the motto to be insensitive. Our captains didn’t need to hear another word. [The captains] immediately said, ‘Coach, let’s just change it.'

“We sincerely apologize if it upset anyone, but it was not meant to be taken the way it may have been by some. … We understand that it probably wasn’t appropriate considering the current climate and certain things that are happening in our society.”

The Annapolis community continues to recover after Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith were killed and two others were wounded in the newsroom in June 2018. That tragedy was compounded in September when three people were killed and three wounded in a shooting at a Rite Aid in Aberdeen, Md. And hours after Navy players spoke Saturday, mass shootings occurred in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

A Capital Gazette reporter had inquired about the motto, prompting Niumatalolo’s meeting with senior captains Ford Higgins, Malcolm Perry, Paul Carothers and Nizaire Cromartie. Carothers, the Gazette noted, was a plebe when his father, a veteran of the U.S. Marshals Service, was killed while leading officers who were making an arrest in 2016.

“I completely empathize with anyone who has lost a family member or close friend to any type of gun violence. I personally know exactly how they feel,” Carothers told reporters. “Because of my experience, I know firsthand how badly it hurts to lose someone you love in that way.”

The passage of time helps but only to a point, he said.

“When my dad was shot, I struggled to understand that whole situation and why it happened,” Carothers said. “It is so incredibly sad, and we have mourned his loss every day since.”

Navy’s team captains have chosen mottoes for several seasons, and they quickly replaced this year’s original choice with “Win the day.” Niumatalolo admitted he had been “leery” of the first motto but told the Gazette he understood that he works at a service academy.

“Clearly it’s a metaphor that speaks to the fact we’re going to battle every weekend, and when you go to battle, you need to have enough ammunition,” Niumatalolo said during American Athletic Conference media day last month. “It means you have to be prepared for the fight, and that is a process that happens every day.”

In apologizing to the community, Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean S. Buck said in a statement to the Capital Gazette that the school strives to be “a good neighbor.”

“The bottom line is, we missed the mark here,” Buck said. "The initial internal football team motto selected, ‘Load the Clip,’ was inappropriate and insensitive to the community we call home.”

Navy’s players now are focused on their season opener Aug. 31 against Holy Cross. “At the end of the day, a motto is just words, and what really matters is what we do on the field,” Higgins said.

“In the end, it’s just words on the back of a T-shirt,” Carothers said. “What we’ve done during the offseason to get ready and what we do on the field every day — our actions — are what truly portray how we approach this season.”

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