Bluefield College players have chosen to stay in the dressing room while playing the pre-game national anthem for the remainder of the season rather than risking the potential penalty for additional game losses, striker Stanley Christian said on Friday.
One day after school in Virginia lost his NAIA Appalachian Athletic Conference game to Reinhardt After suspending all players for kneeling during the national anthem prior to several games in January and February, Christian said the players had met and agreed to save the team’s season but had no intention of opposing racial injustice and Expressing police brutality.
“It’s bigger than us and we don’t want the season to be taken away from us,” the Norfolk, Virginia senior told ESPN. “We feel in a great position to give this school a title. So we’ll stay in the locker room during the national anthem. They don’t want any backlash and we would definitely take a knee during the anthem.” . “
In a statement Thursday, school president David Olive announced the suspension of the entire team after players kneeled for the anthem ahead of their February 9 home game.
Christian said the team had “had a few meetings” and decided to kneel for the anthem in January in response to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The players knelt in front of several street games, but Christian said it was only after the local media broadcast a story about the protests that the school asked them to stop.
Olive said in a statement that he had tried to work with players to find other ways to express their concerns without offending “our alumni, friends and college donors,” but Christian said the players agreed with Olive’s suggestions not satisfied and believed that the school simply wanted to push them out of the public eye.
“At that meeting with him he didn’t really listen to us at all. We tried to tell him our side of the story and it was like talking to a wall,” said Christian. “He showed us he didn’t care at the meeting, so we wanted to stand up for what we believed in. They wanted us to do it their way so they wouldn’t have to deal with the media or people outside of Bluefield . “
Christian said the players made explicit reference to a large rally recently held on campus in support of former President Donald Trump, stretching from the school’s basketball arena to the football stadium where Confederate flags were hoisted as an example of the school that allowed forms of protest previously on campus.
“So it’s okay for everyone to have a Trump rally with Confederate flags, but it’s not okay for us to kneel for our fallen people,” Christian said. “He had no answer to that.”
ESPN emailed Olive, Athletics Director Tonia Walker and the school’s student counseling coordinator for comment, but none responded.
After the suspensions were announced, players from the Bluefield men’s basketball team, as well as others in the soccer, women’s basketball and women’s soccer fields, joined a zoom appeal to discuss their options and spark frustration over feeling their First Amendment rights had been violated were.
He specifically addressed these concerns in Olive’s statement.
“We are a private entity, not a government entity,” Olive said in his statement. “We have policies and guidelines throughout the Student Handbook and Academic Catalog that limit certain rights that you might otherwise have elsewhere, such as in your home or in a public place. But the most important thing to me about this is What I do When someone puts on a uniform or performs a role on behalf of Bluefield College, that person is now representing Bluefield College and has increased expectations of what they may or may not do or say as a representative of the college. “
Christian said he was frustrated with this reaction, arguing that the players’ position on the team should not determine their ability to speak out against racism.
“Dr. Olive told us that when we put Bluefield over our chests, our rights are limited,” said Christian. “Well, this jersey is basically a shackle for us. Now we feel shackled, and that’s not right. And if that jersey falls off, we’re still black in America and I have to face this reality. “
A Bluefield footballer walked out of practice Thursday in protest of the suspensions, and veteran footballer Collin O’Donnell, a military veteran, posted a statement of support for the basketball players. Christian also said he grew up in a military household and that his grandfather was a veteran.
“We do not respect the flag or the country. That is not our intention,” said Christian. “People take it because they’re not trying to understand why we’re doing it.”
Christian said he hoped the public debate over the protests would force Bluefield to make important changes, including hiring more black faculties and staff and setting up more student groups to discuss and engage with important social justice issues .
Bluefield’s next game is against Milligan University on Monday.