In a year in sports rife with athletes sitting or kneeling during the national anthem, the Kent State basketball team found another way to get its message of solidarity to the masses.
Each player entered the stands before Wednesday night’s victory over Mississippi Valley State and selected a fan of a different age, race or gender to stand alongside them while The Star-Spangled Banner played.
“We understand all of the issues going on in our world,” sophomore point guard Jalen Avery said in a statement on behalf of his teammates. “In these times, we felt it was important to show a sign of unity in our community.”
The idea to invite fans onto the floor for the anthem was the brainchild of Kent State players. The team’s seniors and captains revealed their plan to their coaches and sought permission to do it at home games for the rest of the season.
“It takes courage for our players to make a statement like this,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said in a statement. “I believe it is a representation of the unity in our campus community.”
Kent State’s heartwarming gesture comes on the heels of a bitterly contested presidential election that divided Americans and exacerbated racial tensions. A series of disturbing, widely publicized instances of police brutality toward black people have also incited protests across the country.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first to use the national anthem as a platform for protest in August when he started kneeling while the Star-Spangled Banner played to spotlight racial inequality in America. Many athletes in football or other sports have followed suit with similar actions, however, few have been as poignant or well received as what Kent State players did Wednesday night.
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