If a group of African American college coaches get their way, public universities in Tennessee could be erased as possible destinations for outstanding Black recruits. All because the state’s Senate Republican Caucus sent a letter to the presidents and chancellors of all public colleges and universities encouraging them to disallow national anthem protests.
The letters followed anthem kneeling by the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team (see photo above) prior to a recent game. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and 27 Senate GOP caucus members signed the letters urging universities to “adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward.”:
"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."
Founded last summer after the death of George Floyd, the advocacy group Black Coaches United (BCU) is defending the right of athletes to freely express themselves by protesting, but they want to punish the state’s universities over the free speech of Republican politicians.
Yahoo Sports has devoted three stories to this controversy. Shelize Manza Young called it a waste of time by Republicans who could instead be helping Black communities. “These are the same types of legislators who work to strip LGBTQ community of human rights, yet cry ‘cancel culture’ when an actress (Gina Carano) gets fired for likening U.S. politics to Nazi Germany.”
Young listed cultural indicators in which African Americans are suffering and called the Tennessee Republicans “hypocrites who'd prefer that Black athletes shut up and dribble.”
Yahoo sports writer Dan Wetzel said the BCU is suggesting that athletes being recruited by Tennessee universities should consider whether they will attend its schools “following a recent push by legislators to prevent players from taking a knee during the pregame national anthem.”
East Tennessee State coach Jason Shay said his players just wanted to raise awareness and prompt discussion about racial inequality in society. They had no intention of disrespecting the anthem or the American flag.
Apparently, people are supposed to believe there hasn't already been enough awareness raised about athletes’ claims of racial inequality. Not in four-plus years of athletes kneeling and causing a national clamor.
BCU executive director Paul Hewitt said, “We want to impress upon student-athletes that they have a tremendous amount of power in their voice and in their decisions. If the state of Tennessee wants to take away the most basic of American rights, which is the right to peacefully protest, then while we don’t want to tell kids where to go to school, it has to factor into your decision.”
BCU general counsel Ricky Lefft defended his organization’s actions, too. “To say that somehow you are going to prohibit a young person from expressing their point of view in a very peaceful and respectful right is, we say, a violation of their constitutional rights.”
Neither Hewitt or Lefft acknowledged the lawmakers’ constitutional rights to express their opinion.
“Given the current climate, it's time for parents and high school athletes to start to take a hard look at the institutions that are recruiting them and see if those institutions and the state they are located in have their best interest at heart,” Lefft said.
What is the best interest of student athletes? Does taking a knee do anything to prepare college students for their future careers? Does it stop black-on-black crime? Not a chance.
Ryan Young’s Yahoo story indicated Tennessee Democrats are urging universities to proceed with caution on the kneeling issue.
By taking this courageous stand, the Republicans are representing a huge swath of the public that is largely ignored by the media: the people who respect American and its ideals and don’t appreciate having controversial partisan politics shoved down their throats in public sports venues.