The Bluefield Rams men’s basketball team forfeited a game on Thursday after several players took a knee during the national anthem and were immediately suspended from the team.
Bluefield College President David Olive issued a statement saying he told the players not to kneel during the anthem, but when they did it anyway, he suspended them all on the spot, according to ESPN.
“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,” the school chief wrote.
Olive added that he only recently became aware that several student-athletes had knelt for the anthem during this year’s games, and he immediately moved to end the practice.
However, at least one student claimed that school athletes had met with officials and coaches last year and were told they would be allowed to take a knee in protest against the country if they wanted to.
“Why would our school contradict what they said?” Bluefield football player Jewels Gray said. “We had meetings before the season with [the athletic director] and the president, and they stated that we can kneel and they’d support and be behind us, 100 percent.”
Olive insisted that he reached out to the team to discuss the matter but told them kneeling would not be tolerated in the meantime. He also said that the issue was too volatile to be used to send messages about race issues.
“I further told them that their intended message in bringing awareness of racial injustices was being diluted or completely lost because some saw their act of kneeling as being disrespectful to the flag, our country, and to our veterans,” Olive said. “In my opinion, their message was not being heard.”
However, the students ignored the school president’s ultimatum about kneeling and did so despite his warnings.
It goes without saying that this has been a challenging process for all parties involved. I have heard, and I understand the perspective of our players as to why they desire to kneel during the National Anthem. 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.
Olive also pointed out that Bluefield College is a private school, not a government-sponsored entity, and cannot be held to the same free speech policies as government-run schools. The college president then said that students are not acting as private citizens when wearing a school uniform.
“When someone puts on a uniform or is performing a function on behalf of Bluefield College,” he said, “that person is now representing Bluefield College. Heightened expectations are now placed on that individual as to what s/he can and cannot do or say as a representative of the College.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Facebook at: facebook.com/Warner.Todd.Huston.