JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Many in the Tri-Cities are expressing anger and frustration over the ETSU men’s basketball team kneeling during the national anthem.
ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland addressed the action for the first time on Friday afternoon, saying he and the university have faced tremendous pushback from the community.
Several local lawmakers expressed their disappointment regarding the kneeling as well on Friday, saying they’ve heard significant outcry from their constituents.
The team was photographed kneeling ahead of Monday’s game at Chattanooga.
Following ETSU’s Board of Trustee’s meeting, Noland addressed whether players on the men’s basketball team would be allowed to kneel during the next game against VMI, a military college, next Wednesday.
“I do not anticipate that we will take any actions during that game that would reflect negatively upon our opponents. We value our colleagues across the Southern Conference. And we deeply respect the sacrifices that the student-athletes at VMI are making, and that they will make upon graduation,” said Noland.
Speaking to News Channel 11, state Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Rep. Rebecca Alexander (R-Jonesborough), and Rep. Tim Hicks (R-Gray) expressed their disappointment in the team’s decision to kneel.
“This kind of activity will not be tolerated,” Crowe said.
As a former ETSU athlete and veteran, Crowe said he was ashamed to see the image of the team kneeling.
“When you wear the uniform, you’re not just representing your team, your school, your state. You’re representing the entire community. I think we should make sure those young athletes understand what it means,” he said.
Alexander is also an ETSU graduate.
“I think the university is basically in shock right now. I don’t think they were expecting that out of their players,” she said. “When donors call and say, ‘I’m not going to give money anymore to the school’, ‘I’m not coming to any more games’, those are things that hurt ETSU.”
Alexander said she supported First Amendment rights, but didn’t think the national anthem was an appropriate time to kneel.
“There are Black people that have died in this country for our freedom. This is Black History Month. We should be celebrating those men, and not dampering by taking a kneel, and not respecting the flag they’ve died for,” she said.
Hicks said he was also disappointed in the kneeling, but he also wants to hear the personal stories of the athletes.
“I would just like to hear exactly what happened in life to bring them to kneel at that ballgame that night. Until we start hearing people’s stories, and get to the truth about this, and get to what’s really real, I think it’s extremely hard for anybody to judge,” said Hicks.
Hicks said further, “I have full faith in the trustees and Brian Noland. I’m sure that they’re upset. I’m sure they’re trying to figure out what to do.”
Noland said the matter will continue to be addressed.
“I’ll meet with Coach Shay again here over the course of the next couple of days. And we’re going to continue to work through this as a community,” said Noland.