Tennessee State Conference NAACP Youth & College leader responds to Republican Senators request for implementation of policies prohibiting athletic protests during national anthem

The East Tennessee State University Basketball players knelt during ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ before their games against the University of Tennessee Chattanooga on February 15. In response, all 27 state Republican senators signed a letter to university presidents and chancellors asking them to prohibit this behavior.

Contrary to the belief of our Republican senators, the national anthem has never been a symbol of pride for all Americans. Let us not forget: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.” These are lyrics from ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ America was founded on stolen land. The writer of the national anthem was himself a slaveholder, and during the time of the Revolutionary War, not everyone enjoyed the concept of ‘freedom.’ How can men believe in equality but also at the same time participate in this country’s greatest sin? The senators are being ‘ahistorical,’ and we must not allow them to put a shield over the truth.

There is a reason why Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during his NFL games. There is a reason why NBA & MLB players decided not to play their games for one day. There is a reason why student athletes started speaking out as well. The senators talk about freedoms, but suddenly forget the First Amendment. Nevertheless, I do agree with the senators on one thing. The student athletes are representing the universities and the citizens of Tennessee. However, they seem to forget that there are Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Tennessee. Black students attend predominantly White institutions, and there are Black citizens that reside in Tennessee. They have all suffered from Tennessee’s own history with racism.

Readers of this letter, do not be mislead. Chancellors and presidents, encourage your student athletes to continue speaking out, assist them in their campaigns, and right the wrongs that even your own universities suffer from in regards to racism.

In the senators’ letter to the universities, they mentioned making Tennessee a better place. Let’s be honest. That’s not close to being the truth. They had the opportunity to make Tennessee a better place during this past summer. Tennesseans protested and were met with arrests. Tennesseans occupied the plaza for 62 days and were met with arrests. Did these senators do anything to make Tennessee a better place when their own citizens were hurt and angry about these issues? Unfortunately, their words do not match their actions, and it’s disrespectful for them to imply otherwise.

I encourage all student athletes to continue speaking in their own special ways. I also encourage all Tennesseans to remember the names of the senators that signed this letter. If we truly want to make Tennessee a better place, then let’s chart a course for a new journey. But it does not start with them.

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