As dominated in the local news, there has been a big discussion around ETSU and the men’s basketball program as players took a knee during the national anthem in protest, forwarding the many years of struggle towards civil rights and equality.
There have been many statements and rifts caused within the community and at the state level. ETSU President Brian Noland made a troubling statement saying that when the players put on the uniform, they take on a unique responsibility. However, in support of student athletes, Noland has since released another statement after receiving backlash from students.
Tennessee senators have also tried to take legislative action against events like this by signing a letter to encourage institutions like ETSU to prohibit further actions such as kneeling during the national anthem.
In the letter, the senators state that the national anthem is a point of pride for America. Here lies the issue: it is a point of pride for an America that many of us in the African-American community and other communities of color are not taking part in and in many cases have never taken part in. This has not been due to lack of want but more so due to the prejudices and injustices that have kept us from doing so, including on a state and federal level. The America represented within the anthem is not one pictured with us in it.
In fact, we stop the anthem after only the first verse. In the third verse, there are some lyrics which many may not know:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” Francis Scott Key, who was a slave owner, said that free African-Americans are “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” The anthem may represent America but not one that values the lives of millions in BIPOC community, including these student athletes and myself.
It has been nearly a 402-year struggle from starting from step one–as property in a territory not founded yet nor known as the United States of America. The struggles we as a community have endured, just to be considered on a basic level of humanity, predates the country that many hold dear, including many of the BIPOC community still after centuries of terror and mistreatment. To kneel during a symbolized piece of America like the anthem is to bring to the forefront in the simplest way issues of racial discrimination that still are ongoing to this day.
Student athletes are looked at as money makers and points of revenue, and due to the evolution of athletic achievement, many of these athletes come from communities of color. These athletes are more than a logo on a jersey, more than some numbers on a stat sheet. These are human beings who people need to understand deal with a weight of 400 plus years of trauma, which get added onto the tragic events involving George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many more. There have even been issues at ETSU, such as the Rettke incident or the covering up of the memorial of individuals who desegregated the university in Borchuck Plaza.
It is not just recent events that these students, athletes, myself and other people have to live and deal with everyday. So, no: these athletes will not shut up and dribble. They will not just put on a jersey and perform for your entertainment without their civil liberties. They are taking a stand to protect and fight for their livelihood, as well as mine and that of future generations–the same as those before us have, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, who were murdered trying to do so.
We, due to the simple amount of melanin in our skin, live an existence vastly different from those that surround us in the Tri-Cities area. Once people educate themselves on what happened in the Red Summer of 1919, the Rosewood and Greenwood massacres and various other instances of racial terrorism throughout the last 100 years alone, they might start to have some small understanding as to why these athletes and others kneel, and if they were part of the community affected, they might, too.
We have marched, we have petitioned, we have raised money, and still the institutions in which we are fighting for change within for the sake of our well-being–to be treated fairly, to not have to worry about jogging and being gunned down, to not have to worry about sleeping in our bed and be riddled with bullets–have not been met with change. If kneeling during the anthem is what will keep the conversation going, then that is what we must do.
Everyday we are fighting for our lives–the moment we step out of the house–because all it takes is one wrong look, one bad mood and seeing the color of our skin to possibly end our lives. Keep up the work athletes, activists, brothers, sisters and allies to the community. As a person of color, I thank you for the hard work regardless of what sacrifices may come as along with it. A change is going to come.
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