JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- A group of ETSU graduate students led a march on campus Wednesday evening to stand in solidarity with the university’s men’s basketball team amid an ongoing debate over student-athletes kneeling during the national anthem.
“We wanted to create some event that would invite faculty, the ETSU community, and the larger community to be a voice that can echo back how much we value and respect that they were trying to go about this in a respectful manner,” said graduate student, Shae Keane. Keane is in the counseling program. She says the idea and mobilization for the march happened during a class discussion.
Athletes, students, faculty, alumni and community members took part.
“We celebrate difference of opinion here at East Tennessee State but in this case, these players all too often across the nation- at high schools, at college, and the pros are expected to shut up and dribble. That’s not okay,” said director of Africana Studies and History Professor Dr. Daryl Carter. “If I can’t stand up for these kids, these students, these young men, and all the others in the athletic department who are taking a risk by doing this then I’m not sure what I’m bringing to the university.”
Most of the university’s classes are still online, creating a challenge for students to have meaningful discussions.
“Much of this argument, so much of this fight has been almost strictly through social media or through virtual platforms so it’s been hard to get a sense of what students really think but for the most part, I’ve seen widespread support,” said SGA president, Shivam Patel. “There are still many questions with not many answers. Tonight was a great display of community, compassion, and advocacy towards our basketball team.”
Not since protests over racial injustice last summer has something like this happened in Johnson City.
“We’re back at square one and that bothers me a lot. A lot of people don’t understand why we kneel,” said Arron Rashad, a community activist. “It’s self-explanatory. I’m tired of explaining it.”
The march started at the ETSU visitor’s center and ended near the library where for the first time, one of the basketball players spoke about the controversy.
“The kneeling is doing the right thing because God does the right thing for us. God is always there for us so, I’m kneeling because I think this is the right thing to do,” said Ismael Valdez. “We appreciate the military big time for what they do.. and when we kneel… kneeling is not new to me because I wake up every day and I kneel and I pray to God.”
After people spoke, the crowd outside Borchuck Plaza took a knee, they say to let players know they’re not alone.
“It’s important as a white person to be here to take a stand and say this is unacceptable. We have to take a stand, we have to stand up for what’s right,” said community activist, Seth Loven. “We have to say ‘Black lives matter.'”
The discussion about protesting during the national anthem has surfaced after members of the ETSU Men’s Basketball team were captured on camera kneeling during the anthem before their away game versus Chattanooga on February 15.
An ETSU official confirmed the team has done so prior to other games this season as well.