Tennessee Republicans write to universities asking them to prohibit kneeling during national anthem

·3 min read
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State Republican legislators aren't happy after the ETSU men's team kneeled last week in protest during the national anthem. (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Tennessee Republican lawmakers aren’t happy after the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team kneeled in protest during the national anthem last week, and they’re trying to do something about it.

State Republican senators sent a letter to every president and chancellor of all public colleges and universities in Tennessee on Monday urging them to prohibit athletes from protesting during the national anthem.

All 27 members of the Senate Republican Caucus and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally signed the letter, according to the Nashville Tennessean. The anthem, they wrote in the letter, represents “freedoms we enjoy as Americans” and “the ultimate sacrifice paid by many in order for us to enjoy those freedoms.”

Though the form of protesting is peaceful, doesn’t disrespect the flag or country and has become commonplace across the sports world since Colin Kaepernick first did so with the San Francisco 49ers, the Republicans don’t see it that way. That form of protesting, they wrote, can be seen as “offensive and disrespectful to the very thing our National Anthem represents.”

"When they don the jersey of a Tennessee university, they step out of their personal roles and into the role of an ambassador for our state," the senators wrote, via The Tennessean. "We expect all those who walk onto the field of play representing our universities to also walk onto the field of play to show respect for our National Anthem."

State democrats urge schools to ‘proceed cautiously’

Controversy surrounding the national anthem has resurfaced in recent months.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stopped playing the anthem altogether to start the season, though resumed after the NBA stepped in and told them they had to. A NAIA school in Virginia even forfeited a game this month after the school’s president suspended players for protesting.

ETSU players knelt before their game at UT Chattanooga on Feb. 16, something both the school’s coach and president said was done in an effort to prompt discussions about racial inequality, per the report.

State Republicans, however, have been outraged ever since — even despite a potential First Amendment issue.

"The First Amendment is sacrosanct," said Sen. Janice Bowling, a republican, via The Tennessean. "I would never resist anything that’s going to allow them to exercise their First Amendment on their own time, absolutely.

"They're representing the school and the school represents Tennessee and Tennessee shows preference to our time-honored people and institutions who went before us. We respect our heritage and our history."

Whether any schools in the state take any action based off this letter remains to be seen. State Democrats, however, warned the schools to “proceed cautiously.”

"If we're going to really try to not be divisive, what can we do to make people not want to kneel?" House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie said, via The Tennessean. "What can we do to take that out of the equation? What is causing them to kneel in a peaceful protest?

"So we can't protest peacefully? We don’t protest violently. But you want to just hammer us down, or the students down, on every turn."

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