Six members of the Razorback women’s basketball team kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem before an exhibition game in Fayetteville Thursday night and the angry response includes threats of university funding cuts by Republican legislators.
Jordan Danberry, a sophomore from Conway, was quoted:
Recently, you all know that there’s been a lot of killings from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities. Me and my teammates took a knee today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes, we have a platform to do that.
Another player, Keiryn Swenson, who stood erect with hand over her heart, said she honored a late cousin who served in the military. But she also said she supported her teammates and the movement inspired by a pro football quarterback.
The women’s coach, Jimmy Dykes, and UA Athletic Director Jeff Long stood tall.
We have had tremendous dialogue as a staff with them over the last couple of weeks and even before that individually. I met with them as a group this week on a couple of occasions. They had very, very strong, well-informed, educated opinions based on their real-life experiences, their real-life emotions. I am very, very proud of them.
They know I have their back 100 percent. Because we do live in a country that is the land of the free and the home of the brave. I know we spent a lot of time visiting with them, and they understood everything that is going into this evening.”
Long issued a statement:
In this country, we value everyone’s right to voice their opinions and views. University campuses are places of learning and thus places where differences of opinion and varying perspectives are recognized. We respect the rights of our student-athletes and all individuals to express themselves on important issues in our nation.
I probably need not tell you that the majority of Hog nation seemed to disagree with Long. The Hogville message board gives you a taste. Jerk the players’ scholarships, many said.
Sen. Jim Hendren, a fighter pilot who’s waged a long and unhappy social media campaign against the Kaepernick-inspired protests in other venues, commented on Twitter:
As I’ve remarked to Hendren before, I don’t for a minute disagree with him or anyone who doesn’t like the protests. But every national ritual— anthem, pledge, flag waving— is not solely about the military, it’s about the totality of the American ideal. This includes brave people of conscience who express dissent against a sometimes tyrannical majority (a principle that got us started in the first place). I think, by the way, that Hendren understands that better than some legislators, he’s just deeply offended by flag protests. Gov. Asa Hutchinson quickly retweeted Hendren’s message, naturally.
Republican Rep. Laurie Rushing said on Twitter: “I just might take a knee on UA funding.” Sen. Jason Rapert rebroadcast her message and he added: “Perhaps we should reconsider the UofA Budget since some in leadership don’t get it.”
Sen. Linda Collins-Smith wrote: “Disrespectful. Ungrateful. Where is the coach, where is crowd, donors and city? Enough! Speak up people. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain”:
Search @jefflongUA on Twitter and you’ll find a torrent of abuse, including calls by a Republican student group for the firing of Dykes. The same for @coachjimmydykes. “Leave our state you shameful man,” said one.
Is there anything more un-American than saying retribution should be taken against a public university for failing to stifle unpopular speech by its students? Does the 1st Amendment allow a public institution to prescribe acceptable speech? The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken eloquently on this subject, from protecting those who refused to take an oath during World War II to Antonin Scalia on the perils of criminalizing flag burning. Deplore it. Criticize it. But punish it? That’s NOT what Jim Hendren and others on the battlefield are fighting for.
Scott Faldon, the former Fort Smith sportswriter, commented trenchantly on Twitter that many of the fans now planning to “boycott” women’s basketball probably couldn’t name a single player. He also wondered how many of the critics would have supported six players who took the court wearing Make America Great Again caps.
And if I may trot out again memorable court opinions and a Dale Bumpers speech in support of 1st Amendment rights in the face of patriotic fervor. These include a case in Washington County, Ark., overturning discipline of students who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. And, finally, Justice Robert Jackson’s immortal words:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”
Listen in YouTube below to the players, including a kneeler whose parents are police officers and who has two uncles in the military. “We are not trying to dishonor anybody in the military,” she said. She said this was a way to make people take notice of their feelings.
PS: Even our Facebook commentary is scary. “If they are on scholarship they do not have a right to do this.” Indentured servitude, anyone?