Photo Credit: etsubucs.com
Published February 25, 2021
On Monday, universities across the state of Tennessee were put on notice after a protest at East Tennessee State University.
During a men’s basketball game, the players chose to kneel during the national anthem.
This has sparked Republican lawmakers to ask state universities to put tighter restrictions on student protests.
Randy McNally, the Lieutenant Governor, and 26 state senators signed a letter to ETSU, UTC, Tennessee Tech, MTSU, and several other schools across the state.
The letter said, “The National Anthem is a symbol of pride for America,” against allowing any players to kneel during it at sporting events.
The senators said, “During athletic competitions, our student athletes represent not only themselves, but also our universities and all the citizens of this state, many of whom view this form of protest as offensive and disrespectful to the very thing our National Anthem represents.”
The letter went on to say, “While we recognize our student athletes may express their own views on a variety of issues in their personal time, we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or flag while they are representing our state universities. When they don the jersey of a Tennessee university, they step out of their personal roles and into the role of an ambassador for our state. We expect all those who walk onto the field of play representing our universities to also walk onto the field of play to show respect for our National Anthem.”
After receiving the letter, ETSU said they planned to review their athletic policies. A spokesperson for the entire system of UT schools, Tiffany Carpenter, also responded to the notice.
“We respect the brave men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces, the commitment of legislators Tennesseeans have voted to office, and our student athletes who represent our institutions. We received the letter from the State Senate late yesterday and are engaged in conversations across the System about how to move forward in a way that shows that commitment and respect for all,” Carpenter said.
Jason Shay, the basketball coach at ETSU, said the choice for his players to kneel was an intentional one, made to spark a conversation about social justice issues.
Shay stated, “Our intentions by no means involve disrespecting our country’s flag or the servicemen and women that put their lives on the line for our nation. You know we hold those heroes near and dear to our hearts, including two generals that have served our country right here in our backyard.”
“No one knows the sacrifice, the fear, the pain, the anxiety, the loss that they’ve experienced fighting for our country’s freedom and rights. But many of us don’t know the same sacrifice, fear, pain and loss the people of color have had to endure over 400 years. My team is a daily reminder to me that some things are just bigger than basketball,” said Shay.
The protest of student-athletes kneeling during the anthem was started in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick.