Several members of the University of Mississippi‘s basketball team knelt during the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” before Saturday’s home game against Georgia, in response to a pro-Confederacy rally that was being held near the team’s arena in Oxford, Miss.
Initially, six players from the school, which is known as “Ole Miss,” took part in the protest, but then two more joined in, the Associated Press reported.
“The majority of it was just that we saw one of our teammates doing it and didn’t want him to be alone,” Ole Miss scoring leader Breein Tyree told the AP. “We’re just tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus like we have these hate groups in our actual school.”
After the game, Mississippi coach Kermit Davis said he supported the players’ right to protest during the anthem.
“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community to try spread racism and bigotry,” Davis told reporters at a news conference. “It’s created a lot of tension for our campus. Our players made an emotional decision to show these people they’re not welcome on our campus, and we respect our players freedom and ability to choose that.”
“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community to try spread racism and bigotry. It’s created a lot of tension for our campus. Our players made an emotional decision to show these people they’re not welcome on our campus, and we respect our players freedom and ability to choose that.”
Reactions on social media reflected a wide range of opinions.
“This is America in one picture,” one Twitter user wrote. “Outside raging white racists are waving flags of hate while young men inside peacefully protest hate. Nothing could be more American.”
“Can you tell those basketball players to stand up?” another Twitter user commented. “No need in empty gestures now, you knew who OleMiss was when you signed to play there.”
Wrote a third person: “I hope they get this figured out and school wont allow this or teams to start this. No need for politics in college sports.”
Another commenter wrote: “An absolute disgrace. I never like Ole Miss but I respected their basketball coach. No more. I would kick them off the team. I would have had them escorted out of gym prior to game.”
Outside the arena, about pro-Confederacy protesters demonstrated on “The Square” on campus, opposed by about 50 counter-protesters, the Clarion Ledger of Jackson reported. The Square is home to a monument to Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War, according to the paper.
A man identified as K-Rack Johnson, with the group Confederate 901, told the Clarion Ledger that Saturday’s protest was in response to a November call by Students Against Social Injustice to have the monument removed — following a recent trend of removals and relocations of Confederate monuments and symbols, largely in response to a protest in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in a woman’s death.
But Johnson said the monument at Ole Miss should stay where it is.
“It represents our ancestors,” Johnson told the Clarion Ledger. “It represents all the dead Confederate soldiers that are buried out in these trenches throughout this country that don’t even have markings where they’re buried. That’s what those monuments represent. Those monuments are for closure.”
“It represents our ancestors. It represents all the dead Confederate soldiers that are buried out in these trenches throughout this country that don’t even have markings where they’re buried. That’s what those monuments represent. Those monuments are for closure.”
Earlier in the week, various student groups had held more demonstrations against the monument.
After Saturday’s game, Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork joined coach Davis in supporting the players who protested.
“Our job is to teach and educate every single day,” Bjork said. “They’re human. They’re students. They see what’s happening on our campus. These people that come here and they spill hate and bigotry and racism, we don’t want them on our campus. Our players stood up for that.”
“It had nothing to do with the anthem. It had nothing to do with anything beyond we don’t want those people here, they’re protesting during our game and that’s not right because that’s not the Ole Miss that I know.”
Ole Miss won the game, 72-71. Whether the players would face any disciplinary action from their school, conference or the NCAA remained unclear.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.