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.
Members of the Bluefield College basketball team, which plays in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics league, were suspended by school president David Olive ahead of a game Thursday once he learned that the players had been kneeling for the anthem after being specifically told not to, according to the New York Post.
“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 claimed in a statement.
Olive revealed that he found out the players knelt for the anthem prior to the team’s Feb. 1st game and commanded the coach to have the team stop, but the players took a knee again before a game the following day.
Many student-athletes at the school were reportedly upset about Olive’s decision and confirmed that they were told by school officials they were permitted to kneel. 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?” Jewels Gray, a football player at Bluefield College, pointed out in comment to the controversy. “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%.”
Olive said he understands the player's perspective but argued that the message isn’t being heard when they choose to protest during the national 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 have heard and I understand the perspective of our players as to why they desire to kneel during the national anthem,” Olive said. “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.”
Kneeling for the national anthem and abstaining from the ceremony altogether was brought to the forefront in 2017 by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee in a protest that he said was motivated by racial injustice in the United States.
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.