The Bluefield College (Bluefield, Va.) men’s basketball team was forced to forfeit its NAIA game against Reinhardt on Thursday after school president David Olive suspended players for kneeling during the national anthem in January and early February.
Olive, who is white, told ESPN in a statement that he suspended players prior to Thursday’s game after previously instructing them not to kneel during the anthem. ESPN reports that Olive had ongoing discussions with players, coach Richard Morgan and athletic director Tonia Walker about the practice, but only issued suspensions after media reports surfaced last week.
“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 told ESPN.
Per ESPN, Olive became aware of players kneeling on Feb. 1 and immediately told Morgan it wouldn’t be tolerated. Players ignored the directive the following day; Morgan kept his team in the locker room during the playing of the anthem on Feb. 4. Olive added that he understands players’ message and supports calls for racial justice, but told players he didn’t condone their method of protesting racial inequality.
“I further told them that their intended message in bringing awareness of racial injustices was being diluted or completely lost because some saw their act of kneeling as being disrespectful to the flag, our country, and to our veterans,” Olive said. “In my opinion, their message was not being heard.”
Football player Jewels Gray, who is close with several players on the team, said Olive’s current message to the team reportedly contradicts what they were told earlier this season. He added that players have been told not to release a statement or speak to media. To that end, Olive said no player’s First Amendment rights are being violated because Bluefield is a private school.
“Why would our school contradict what they said?” Gray told ESPN. “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 percent.”
Gray decided to support the basketball team and protest their suspension on Wednesday by walking out of practice; the Rams are playing a spring season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will play a game Saturday. His tweet explaining his intentions was retweeted by several basketball players.
Today I stood up for what I believe in and I peacefully protested social injustice during my football practice. Colored inequality has occurred on my college campus and within my community against student athletes recently and that’s wrong.
I hope I have twitters support ✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/FrayzzrAH3
— Jewels Gray (@15_toetap) February 11, 2021
“I didn’t feel like the football team should practice when the basketball team can’t play, just because they stood up for what they believe in,” Gray told ESPN. “I peacefully protested practice, but I didn’t ask anyone else to leave practice with me. I stood up before [the team prayer] and spoke and made them aware of what was going on. I know we all have one goal.”