JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The image of the ETSU men’s basketball team kneeling during the national anthem has brought both praise and disappointment from fans.
The team was seen kneeling before last Monday’s game at Chattanooga. An ETSU official confirmed the team has done so prior to other games this season as well.
Head coach Jason Shay backed the team’s decision to kneel at a post-game press conference following the Buccaneers’ loss to Mercer on Wednesday. He said the move was not meant as disrespect towards the American flag or servicemen and women.
“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 that people of color have had to endure over 400 years,” said Shay.
News Channel 11 reached out for comment from both ETSU Athletic Director Scott Carter and President Brian Noland. Neither were available for interviews on Thursday.
Some in the community expressed outrage over the kneeling in online comment threads, saying they’ll no longer purchase season tickets or consider themselves fans of the team.
State Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) is disappointed in the move.
“Is there racial injustice in this country, in this region? I have no doubt about it,” said Cambell. “Is this a proper way to address it? Some argue it is. I think that people have fought and bled and died for the rights and freedoms we have, including the First Amendment. And I believe there’s a better time than that song, the national anthem, for members to protest how they feel or make a statement.”
ETSU student Logan O’Handley sees the flag as a symbol of unity. He said he respectfully disagreed with the team kneeling – seeing it as an act of division.
“Life is short, and we shouldn’t worry about a person’s skin color…we need to stop worrying about what’s different, and what’s about bringing us together,” O’Handley said.
Judith Hammond is a retired ETSU professor who’s been a Bucs’ season ticket holder for 30 years. She’s supportive of the team kneeling.
“These are times when our young people are looking for ways to express themselves. And if that format is one that doesn’t violate the law or a rule, then I respect them for it,” said Hammond. “The coach said they intended no disrespect. I believe that.”