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Don’t let college athletes kneel, Tennessee Senators urge state schools

Tennessee Senate Republicans issued a letter to multiple chancellors and presidents of colleges across the state, discouraging student athletes from kneeling during the national anthem at games.
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 3:09 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 4:51 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee Senate Republicans issued a letter to multiple chancellors and presidents of colleges across the state, discouraging student athletes from kneeling during the national anthem at games.

The letter, which addresses University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman among others, says, “in light of recent news reports, we want to address the issue of our student athletes kneeling during the National Anthem prior to sports competitions.”

It comes after East Tennessee State University men’s basketball players kneeled, drawing the attention of many like Representative Diana Harshbarger, who called the action “disrespectful.”

Kneeling before the national anthem at sports games became a popular form of protest, but not before Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, drew widespread hate and support for doing it for racial justice. Kaepernick later opted out of his contract.

“While we recognize our student athletes may express their own views 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.”

The Republican Senators asked the chancellors and presidents to “adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward” and called it “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.”

Tennessee Senate Democrats released a statement late Tuesday evening saying, “Our public colleges and universities should be a safe place for students to express themselves and advocate peacefully for change in our country without interference from the legislature or university administrators. In fact, student organizing on college campuses is a perfect reflection of the American values embedded in our First Amendment. Rather than silencing the voices of students who are peacefully bringing attention to injustice in our country, we should all be working together to address the inequities that brought them to a knee.”

The statement added that Democrats were proposing bills in this legislative session to increase police accountability, end police brutality and “erase other inequities in the law.”

The University of Tennessee System offered a statement as well:

“We respect the brave men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces, the commitment of legislators Tennesseans have voted to office, and our student athletes who represent our institutions. We received the letter from the State Senate late yesterday and are engaged in conversations across the System about how to move forward in a way that shows that commitment and respect for all.”

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