An interstate men's college basketball game last week has led Tennessee Senate Republicans, including Williamson County's own Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, to sign onto a joint letter urging universities across the state to regulate protests during the National Anthem.
ETSU vs UTC
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the ETSU men's basketball team squared off against UTC in Chattanooga. While UTC eventually bested ETSU, it was the beginning of the game that drew the attention of Tennessee Republicans across the state.
During the performance of the National Anthem, members of the ETSU basketball team knelt, drawing both praise and criticism from across the state.
Head ETSU basketball Coach Jason Shay supported his team's form of protest, arguing that it was not meant as a form of disrespect to veterans or the American flag. ETSU President Brian Noland also felt that the protest was not a form of disrespect to veterans, but appeared more sympathetic to those who were offended by the demonstration.
"Those events and actions do not represent our values," Noland said. "By no means do I believe that any of our students intended for their actions to be disrespectful to our flag, our veterans, service members or their family. However, I recognize the hurt, the pain and the emotion that has been evidenced across this region."
Kneeling during the National Anthem as a form of protest began to take center stage in the U.S. back in 2016 when then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt as a means to peacefully protest racial injustice.
"Many view this form of protest as offensive and disrespectful"
In the open letter sent out Monday, 26 Tennessee Senate Republicans, including Johnson, urge the leaders of 10 public Tennessee universities to "adopt policies within [their] respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward."
"During athletic competitions, our student athletes represent not only themselves, but also our universities and all the citizens of this state, many of whom view this form of protest as offensive and disrespectful to the very thing our National Anthem represents," reads the letter.
"While we recognize our student athletes may express their own view 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. 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. We view this as a teachable moment in which administrators may listen to 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."
To read the letter in its entirety, click here.