The dean of a small Baptist liberal arts college in western Virginia suspended basketball players after they repeatedly knelt before games during the playing of the National Anthem in violation of the institution’s rules.
The suspension of several Bluefield College players by President David Olive led to a forfeit against NAIA rival Reinhardt on Thursday, the New York Post reported.
Olive, who is white, said in a statement he made the decision to suspend all the team’s players after discovering that they had knelt prior to several games this season.
“The basis for my decision stemmed from my own awareness of how kneeling is perceived by some in our country, and I did not think a number of our alumni, friends, and donors of the College would view the act of kneeling during the anthem in a positive way,” he said.
Olive said he had meetings with the coaches and players ahead of his decision. He also said he met with Tonia Walker, the athletic director, who is black.
If true, it’s likely that donors and alumni were pressing Olive to change the policy, based on his statement.
“I have heard and I understand the perspective of our players as to why they desire to kneel during the National Anthem,” he noted in his statement. I also know this form of protest immediately shuts down a number of individuals from listening to the intended message because of their perspective regarding the flag.
“No individual’s sincere motives are inherently wrong. But I continue to contend that we will not get to where we want AND NEED to get as a country in addressing these racial issues without making honest attempts at creating pathways that bring people together for a common cause,” he added.
“In my opinion, their message was not being heard” and as such, after players continued to kneel during their last game, Olive said there would be “consequences” to the action.
Follow-up reports said that players made a collective decision to simply remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem for the remainder of the season in order to avoid incurring additional penalties and potential forfeitures of games.
“It’s bigger than us, and we don’t want to have the season taken away from us,” Bluefield forward Stanley Christian told ESPN on Friday. “We feel like we’re in a great position to bring this school a title. So we’ll stay in the locker room during the national anthem. They don’t want any more backlash, and we would definitely take a knee during the anthem.”
He added that the team would continue protesting against alleged police brutality and racial injustices in a different manner.
Players voiced frustration with Olive, accusing him of violating their First Amendment rights. But he pushed back on those allegations.
“We are a private entity, not a governmental entity,” Olive noted in his statement. “We have policies and guidelines throughout the student handbook and the academic catalog that limit certain rights you otherwise might have elsewhere, such as in your home or in a public venue.”