Virginia NAIA school forfeits basketball game after suspending players for kneeling during national anthem

Ryan Young
·3 min read

Bluefield College, an NAIA school in Virginia, forfeited its men’s basketball game on Thursday after the school’s president suspended several players for kneeling during the national anthem.

President David Olive, who is white, said that he had told players to stop kneeling during the anthem in protest. When they continued, he decided to suspend everyone involved, per ESPN.

That forced the team to forfeit its game against Reinhardt on Thursday night.

"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," Olive said, via ESPN.

President suspends players after learning of protests

Olive, per the report, said he only learned that players on the basketball team had been kneeling for the anthem in protest on Feb. 1 after media reports surfaced — something they had done at several previous games both at home and on the road. He told coach Richard Morgan that protest would not be tolerated by him.

Players, however, knelt during the anthem at a game the next day. Two days later, Morgan kept his team in the locker room during the anthem. Olive reportedly reached out to the team once more and said he supported their message, but didn’t like that it was during the national anthem.

"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, via ESPN. "In my opinion, their message was not being heard."

The team knelt again during the anthem on Feb. 8, and Olive responded by saying that there would be “consequences.” So, he then suspended the players — and told them that any potential First Amendment rights violation didn’t apply here.

Players had reportedly been told they could kneel

Members of the basketball team have apparently been told that they can’t speak out or release any statements about the issue, Bluefield football player Jewels Gray told ESPN.

Yet Gray, who is close with the team, is confused by the suspensions. He said that the team had been told before the season started that they could kneel in protest — something commonly seen across the sports world that does not disrespect the flag or the country.

"Why would our school contradict what they said?" Gray said, via ESPN. "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%."

Since the suspensions, Gray and others on the football team walked out of a practice — they are playing a spring season due to the COVID-19 pandemic — in solidarity with the basketball team.

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"I didn't feel like the football team should practice when the basketball team can't play, just because they stood up for what they believe in," Gray said, via ESPN. "I peacefully protested practice, but I didn't ask anyone else to leave practice with me. I stood up before [the team prayer] and spoke and made them aware of what was going on. I know we all have one goal."

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