JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — East Tennessee State men’s basketball coach Jason Shay says his team means no disrespect to the country’s flag or armed services by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games.

After the team was seen kneeling before last Monday’s game at Chattanooga, an ETSU official confirmed that the team has done so prior to other games this season.

Shay was asked about the kneeling following the Buccaneers’ 71–64 loss to Mercer at home Wednesday night. He said it was a team decision and lauded the fact it has led to discussion among some fans.

“That’s good that they’re discussing because that’s what that was supposed to do,” Shay said. “It was a decision our team made prior to the season as a call to action and empowerment against racial inequalities and injustices. Just because it’s not in the news we’re not going to talk about it?”

Fans in the stands at Freedom Hall haven’t seen the team kneel because COVID-19 restrictions keep the team in the locker room during the national anthem.

PHOTO: The ETSU men’s basketball team kneels prior to the game at Chattanooga on Feb. 15, 2021. (Jesse Krull/WJHL)

Shay said kneeling is about shedding light on racial issues, not disrespecting the American flag or the men and women who have served.

“Our intentions by no means involve disrespecting our country’s flag or the servicemen or women that put their lives on the line for our nation,” Shay said. “We hold those heroes near and dear to our hearts, including two generals, you know, 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 that people of color have had to endure over 400 years.”

Shay said his team serves as a daily reminder to him “that some things are just bigger than basketball.”

During the post-game press conference, he was also asked about fans taking issue with the team’s conduct.

“Well, that’s their right. It’s all, it’s 1st Amendment,” Shay said. “And I’m not going to turn a blind eye to what has happened in this nation prior. I’ve got a lot of Black players and I stand behind them and what they have to endure throughout their lives. As I said, it’s a call of action. Are we just going to continue to just say things and nothing be done? Or are we going to still continue to bring, you know, shed some light on this, so that there is discussion?”

ETSU will face Samford in Birmingham this Saturday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.