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Bluefield College forfeited its men’s basketball game Thursday after players disregarded the school president’s directive not to kneel during the national anthem. Bluefield is an NAIA program in Virginia.
Players had been kneeling for several games, then continued to do so after Bluefield president David Olive forbid the practice, saying it is viewed in a negative light by those close to the college. Bluefield is a private institution.
“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 in a statement.
Olive, who is white, said he came to the decision on kneeling after ongoing discussions with athletic director Tonia Walker, who is black, as well as several coaches and athletes. He then told Bluefield basketball coach Richard Morgan that the players were not to kneel.
The players knelt during the anthem for the next game anyway. After that, Morgan kept them in the locker room to avoid any further conflict. But the players came back out for the anthem in the game after that and knelt during the anthem again — leading to the cancellation of Thursday’s game by the school.
“It goes without saying that this has been a challenging process for all parties involved,” Olive said in Thursday’s statement. “I have heard and I understand the perspective of our players as to why they desire to kneel during the National Anthem. I also know this form of protest immediately shuts down a number of individuals from listening to the intended message because of their perspective regarding the flag. No individual’s sincere motives are inherently wrong. But I continue to contend that we will not get to where we want AND NEED to get as a country in addressing these racial issues without making honest attempts at creating pathways that bring people together for a common cause.”
While the basketball players have been silent publicly, several Bluefield football players have spoken out about the matter. One of those players, Collin O’Donnell, released a statement from the entire football team. O’Donnell is a military veteran.
“Over the past few days, Bluefield College athletics has been put center stage in our locality over both the kneeling during the national anthem as well as the subsequent decisions made following it,” O’Donnell wrote. “As a football team, we can not be blind or deaf to the social issues within our country & the deep divide we collectively face in addressing them head on. This week we talked amongst our team and expressed that despite outside forces or conflicting opinions, we remain one unit, indivisible. One of the hallmarks of our constitutional republic is our first amendment right; this ability to peaceably hold different beliefs and opinions while living our truth are what makes us unique and separates us from those in our world who look to silence others on issues which are uncomfortable to face.
“As a team, we are focused and dedicated to one another. We go out of our way every season to make real, positive changes in our community. Whether we agree or disagree on the way which express our concerns …..when we step on the field we are one unit, one family and we believe in each other.”