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Tennessee GOP asks state schools to keep players from kneeling during anthem

Tennessee GOP asks state schools to keep players from kneeling during anthem
© Screenshot Via WTVF

Republican state senators in Tennessee are urging administrators at public universities in the state to punish athletes who kneel in protest during the national anthem before games. 

In a letter addressed to several college chancellors and presidents across the state, the GOP legislators cited "recent news reports" in asking that the officials adopt policies within their respective athletic departments to "prohibit such actions moving forward." 

Earlier this month, members of the East Tennessee University men's basketball team knelt during "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a game in what players said was a demonstration of solidarity against racism. 

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As conservatives across the country have done since former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt before NFL games, the Republican lawmakers in Tennessee said the protests are disrespectful and demanded they stop, as reported by Knoxville CBS station WVLT.

“While we recognize our student athletes may express their own views on a variety of issues in their personal time, we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or flag while they are representing our state universities," the state senators and lieutenant governor wrote. "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. 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.”

The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans killed either by police or in instances of racially motivated violence in recent months have renewed a national conversation on police brutality and equity in the criminal justice system. 

Professional athletes and sports leagues have been on the leading end of the debate on racial justice, with prominent stars including LeBron James speaking out against systemic racism and mistreatment of minorities. 

Most athletic departments at public universities in Tennessee and across the country have not adopted policies barring student-athletes from participating in racial justice protests. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban was among several high-profile college sports figures to march with players and community activists during demonstrations for Black Lives Matter over the summer. 

“We respect the brave men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces, the commitment of legislators Tennesseans have voted to office, and our student athletes who represent our institutions," the University of Tennessee said in a statement in response to the Republicans' letter. "We received the letter from the State Senate late yesterday and are engaged in conversations across the System about how to move forward in a way that shows that commitment and respect for all.”