All 27 Republican members of the Tennessee Senate have signed a letter to the state’s public university system telling officials to prohibit students from kneeling during the national anthem, after a men’s basketball team did so last week.
East Tennessee State University’s basketball team provoked uproar on February 16, when, prior to a game at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, they collectively dropped to one knee as The Star Spangled Banner began playing.
The team’s coach, Jason Shay, has since insisted that his players didn’t intend to disrespect the nation’s flag or members of the US military, and were instead attempting to prompt discourse about racial injustice.
However, the demonstration did not sit will with Republican lawmakers in the state, who have repeatedly voiced their outrage over the players’ act of peaceful protest in various meetings, television interviews and in social media posts in the days since.
On Monday, all 27 members of the Senate Republican Caucus signed a letter to the presidents and chancellors of all the public colleges and universities in Tennessee.
‘To address this issue, we encourage each of you to adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward,’ the Senators, including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, urged.
East Tennessee State University’s basketball team provoked uproar on February 16, when, prior to a game at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, they collectively dropped to one knee as The Star Spangled Banner began playing (seen above)
All 27 Republican members of the Tennessee Senate have now signed a letter to the state’s public university system telling college officials to prohibit students from kneeling (seen above)
In their letter, the GOP Senators said the national anthem represents the ‘freedoms we enjoy as Americans’, and the ‘ultimate sacrifice paid by many in order for us to enjoy those freedoms.’
They however went on to say that the act of kneeling during the anthem is regarded by many as ‘offensive and disrespectful to the very thing our National Anthem represents.’
‘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,’ the senators wrote.
‘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.’
The Senators surmised that they view this as a ‘teachable moment in which administrators may listen to the concerns from students but also exercise leadership in stating unequivocally what the National Anthem means to this nation and explain proper times, places, and manners for expressing protest.’
‘While we work together to make Tennessee a better place for all our citizens, let’s not focus on what divides us but on what unites us, which is being American,’ the cohort wrote.
The team’s coach, Jason Shay (seen right), has since insisted that his players didn’t intend to disrespect the nation’s flag or members of the US military, but were instead attempting to prompt conversations about racial injustice
US Women’s Soccer Team Will No Longer Kneel for National Anthem
For the first time in 2021, the US women’s soccer team stood for the national anthem before a game against Brazil on Sunday.
USWNT said their decision to resume standing for the anthem rather than kneel in protest of racial inequality and police brutality is not the end of the squad’s fight for justice.
The team, clad in their warmup jackets with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the front, stood for the national anthem ahead of their SheBelieves Cup game on Sunday after some had knelt in the tournament opener last Thursday.
Defender Crystal Dunn said no vote was taken to stop the kneeling gesture but rather it was a collective decision by a team ready to move past the protesting phase.
‘I think those that were collectively kneeling felt like we were kneeling to bring about attention to police brutality and systemic racism,’ said Dunn.
‘We never felt we were going to kneel forever, so there was always going to be a time that we felt it was time to stand.’
Similar sentiments were shared during a joint House and Senate government operations committee meeting on Monday, the Tennessean reported.
GOP Sen. Janice Bowling said the First Amendment is ‘sacrosanct’, but said she believed students shouldn’t be able to kneel when competing for their schools.
‘I would never resist anything that’s going to allow them to exercise their First Amendment on their own time, absolutely,’ she said. ‘[But] they’re representing the school and the school represents Tennessee and Tennessee shows preference to our time-honored people and institutions who went before us. We respect our heritage and our history.’
Fellow Republican Senator Rust Crowe, also questioned whether the constitutional right to freedom of speech extends to students in uniform.
Similarly, GOP Sen. Mark Pody added that he was concerned student athletes would engage in acts of protest while ‘taking state money, they’re in our state schools, in our state uniforms.’
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie of Nashville, meanwhile, urged the state’s universities to ‘proceed cautiously’ when addressing athletes’ forms of protest.
‘If we’re going to really try to not be divisive, what can we do to make people not want to kneel?,’ Dixie asked the committee, according to WJHL. ‘What can we do to take that out of the equation? What is causing them to kneel in a peaceful protest?’
He also spoke to the complaints raised by his colleagues regarding their grievances with how young people choose to protest racial inequality.
‘So we can’t protest peacefully? We don’t protest violently. But you want to just hammer us down, or the students down, on every turn,’ he said.
Among the signees of Monday’s letter were Republicans Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (left) and Sen. Janice Bowling (right). Bowling called the First Amendment a ‘sacrosanct’ but said students should only be permitted the freedom on their own time, not while representing the state’s universities
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie (above) of Nashville, meanwhile, urged the state’s universities to ‘proceed cautiously’ when addressing athletes’ forms of protest
Other elected officials have let their pejorative takes on ETSU’s kneeling protest be known on social media.
Among this is GOP Rep. Scott Campbell, who wrote to Twitter: ‘If they are practicing their 1st amendment right and just kneeling in protest, why don’t they kneel at halftime or the end of the game?’
He then took aim at Coach Shay’s salary, writing: ‘If it isn’t out of disrespect and they cared about how many of their fans feel they wouldn’t do it during that song. $250k annual salary and can’t see fit to have players respect our anthem as Americans? Disappointing!’
U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, a Republican representing the 1st Congressional District, tweeted that she too was ‘disappointed’ by the ETSU team.
‘I’m disappointed to see the ETSU basketball team take a knee during the national anthem. This is disrespectful to everyone who fought or died to protect our freedoms,’ she wrote. ‘We should stand proud with our hands on our hearts or saluting the flag during the anthem.’
ETSU president Brian Noland spoke out in defense of the team’s protests during a conference with trustees on Friday, but also acknowledged the offense felt by the local community.
‘I know that the actions of the past days have created tension, strife, and emotion within our community. I also know that we have had a lot of purposeful and intentional conversations regarding social justice, equity, and structural disparities within our region,’ he said.
‘Those conversations are healthy and healing and I know that they are going to plant seeds that can allow roots to grow for change.’
Coach Shay, meanwhile, told the Johnson City Press: ‘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.
‘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,’ he continued. ‘My team is a daily reminder to me that some things are just bigger than basketball.’
ETSU Coach Shay (above) told the Johnson City Press : ‘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’
Local Vietnam veteran Bobbie Smith, of Johnson Ciry, who is black, also spoke in defense of ETSU’s basketball players on Monday, telling WJHL she is proud of the team for taking the knee.
‘Well, number one, they have shouted it from the highest mountaintop that this is not in disrespect for the American flag. This is in kneeling for what our race and colored people have went through – oppression, segregation and everything else,’ Smith said.
‘They need to understand this, I mean, I don’t see how much more you can explain it to them that we’re not disrespecting the flag when we take a kneel, we’re drawing attention onto the oppression and things that we have gone through and still are going through.’
Further, as a veteran herself, Smith said she didn’t believe the actions of the team were disrespectful to former or current members of the US military.
‘We served our country, and those that fought for freedom fought for the things that we could express ourselves in any way that we wanted to.
‘Everybody has their opinion – that’s their Constitutional right. So, you just can’t go and just pick certain kinds of freedoms that you say that you’ve fought for.
‘When you went into the United States military, they told you you’re fighting for freedom and they didn’t give you an option of what freedom you’re fighting for,’ she said.
This is not the first time a university team in the state has taken a knee during the national anthem this year.
On January 7, the day after the Capitol riots in Washington DC, the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team, the Lady Vols, also knelt for The Star Spangled Banner.
Local Vietnam veteran Bobbie Smith, of Johnson Ciry, also spoke in defense of ETSU’s basketball players on Monday, telling WJHL she is proud of the team for taking the knee
On January 7, the day after the Capitol riots in Washington DC, the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team, the Lady Vols, also knelt for The Star Spangled Banner (above)
Much like ETSU, the Lady Vols were criticized on social media by fans and others outside the program.
‘We thought that with everything going on, especially here recently with Washington and everything, that’s what we saw fit to do,’ player Rennia Davis said at the time. ‘The people on the team who saw fit to support that, they did and the ones that who didn’t, they supported us in a different way.’
Junior Rae Burrell added that the team had been inspired by how WNBA players engaged in social activism during their season last summer.
‘I think with our platform, it’s a good thing for us to speak up on something that we stand for,’ she told ESPN. ‘It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment-type of thing; we didn’t really plan to do it. But with everything happening yesterday and over the summer, we just felt that it needed to be done.’
State legislators have not so far brought up the Lady Vols during their discussions about kneeling in protest thus far.
However, the team has remained in the locker room for the national anthem for all of their games since January 7.
UT introduced a policy on January 10 to play the anthem much earlier, according to Knox News.