The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team received backlash from officials across the state who say the team’s decision to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem was offensive to the U.S. military and veterans.
After the team kneeled during Saturday’s game against Florida, Kentucky Sheriff John Root, along with Jamie Mosley, who runs the Laurel County Correctional Center, burned their UK shirts in protest on a now-deleted video posted to Root’s Facebook page. Root said the Wildcat’s actions made him feel “kind of disgusted and outraged” at the “disrespect that they showed last night to that flag .. and the disrespect to our veterans.” Mosley even offered disgruntled fans the option of turning in their UK shirts to the jailhouse in exchange for a “Back the Badge” shirt that honors all first responders.
The Knox County Fiscal Court also voiced their displeasure of the “unpatriotic” decision by the team, and recommended state leaders move to reallocate taxes “from unpatriotic recipients to hard-working Kentucky [taxpayers] across this Commonwealth.” Knox County Judge Executive Mike Mitchell referenced a statue that honors veterans that stands outside the courthouse, saying, “We’ve got names of people out here on this monument that’s given up their life for our country.
“[The university] receives millions and millions of dollars every year of hardworking Kentucky taxpayers’ money. I think they need to be held accountable for their actions if they can’t manage it no better than that,” Mitchell said.
The court’s resolution stated its intent as a “call of action to denounce the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team and the coaching staff for refusing to stand during the national anthem of the United States of America. This action lacks respect for the veterans that have served our country.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari defended his decision to kneel with the team, saying, “I held my heart, but I did kneel with them.
“It was all the images that they saw and they wanted to have their voice heard, and I said, well, ‘Tell me what it’s about,'” Calipari said. “They talked to me about it. Then they said, ‘We’d like you to kneel with us,’ which I did. I held my heart, but I did kneel with them because I support the guys. But it wasn’t about military. Six of these players come from military families. … This wasn’t about the military.”
Wildcat players also defended their decision to kneel. “I think our action speaks for itself,” forward Olivier Sarr said, mimicking the exact words used by Calipari and also by guard Davion Mintz.
Sarr continued, explaining the team’s decision to kneel was about “being open-minded”:
What happened in the past few days, few weeks and even during quarantine, we just want to show support for our community and raise awareness on the things that happened lately, It comes from a place of understanding peaceful conversations and being open-minded. That’s it.
Another player, forward Isaiah Jackson, referenced a gallows that was photographed during the Capitol protest last week:
“It was a couple of things,” Jackson said. “Like, I saw the noose. That was just — was out of pocket. That’s just something that people shouldn’t do. I feel like people have their own opinions, but that was just, like, that was just out of pocket. Just breaking in is just crazy to me.”
University President Eli Capilouto and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart supported the team’s decision to kneel, saying in a joint statement, “A value we all hold dear in our country is the right of free speech and self-expression,” and added, “We live in a polarized and deeply divided country. Our hope — and that of our players and our coaches — is to find ways to bridge divides and unify.”
The University of Kentucky has a history of supporting left-wing causes. In July, the university was sued for plans to remove a mural that depicts various parts of Kentucky history, and in 2019 the university was forced to apologize after their staffers conspired to block the formation of a Conservative student group on campus.