JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Protesters and counter-protesters rallied outside Johnson City Honda on Friday afternoon over an action the car dealership allegedly took after the ETSU men’s basketball team kneeled during the national anthem.
“I’m not represented as my white friends and stuff like that and so honestly right when I saw them kneeling for justice it was like this is what needs to be happening,” said protester and ETSU sophomore Taylor Moore. “But the response has been sick. Black students need to be represented and athletes, they’re not just for your paycheck, they’re not just for your entertainment. They are people too. Being black is a part of them so you have to represent them and listen to them.”
The demonstrations came after now-former ETSU men’s basketball head coach Jason Shay resigned last week.
He and his team face backlash after our camera captured the team kneeling during the national anthem before a basketball game at Chattanooga in February. The team kneeled at other away games as well.
According to some players and a person close to Shay, Johnson City Honda took back a vehicle that it had provided to the coach in response to the team taking a knee.
“Once the information came out about Joe Trujillo (the owner of the dealership) pulling the loaner cars from Coach Shay and the assistant coaches as punishment because of their support and their actions of kneeling with the team that was just a gut punch,” said Katelyn Yarbrough, chairperson for the New Generation Freedom Fighters. “It’s incredibly demeaning and condescending and it’s just another symptom of the systemic racism that’s here in our community.”
“[ETSU] should really take a serious look at that as well as the other business owners that have threatened to pull their funding,” said Yarbrough. “ETSU really needs to reevaluate their relationship with money versus the actual lives of their students and their athletes.”
“This is just a small percentage of us today but I hope he sees that there is a community full of people that are willing to fight and stand up for diversity of all nature,” said Kemp Faneto, a representative for New Panthers Initiative. “Our system will not be controlled by a big business’ money. Our athletes will not be silenced because of somebody else’s money. They will not be told to shut up and dribble, shut up and run down the field.”
Although the protest was peaceful, once the two sides crossed into each other there were some exchanges.
“I’m a strong supporter of the flag and they had every right to pull those cars out of ETSU,” said counter-protester Richard Gourley. “My father quit high school to join World War II to protect this flag and I’ll do anything to protect it. It deserves respect. You don’t kneel during the national anthem. Politics shouldn’t be brought into sports to begin with.”
“We think he’s doing what’s right, what’s American and we just really want these students to consider an alternative option to reaching their goals and if they can’t come up with one, our freedom group would love to sit down with them and just talk about other options,” said Danielle Goodrich, who showed up in support of Johnson City Honda.
Goodrich said kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful and that there are better options for accomplishing what the student-athletes wish to accomplish.
“We’re concerned that people that are kneeling for our country’s symbol of freedom and that’s disrespectful to those who have died fighting for our freedom, and we just really think there is a better way to accomplish these goals,” Goodrich said.
News Channel 11 has reached out to Johnson City Honda for comment several times. We are still waiting to hear back.