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Tennessee GOP Lawmakers Want To Ban Student-Athletes From Kneeling Following ETSU Protest

Republican state senators want university athletes to be punished for protesting while at sporting events.

Every GOP member of the Tennessee Senate has signed a letter after the men’s basketball team at East Tennessee State University knelt during the national anthem.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, is one of the signees. During a hearing Monday, he said he supports the right of student athletes to protest, as long as it is during their free time.

“Most of us are thinking that when you are in that uniform and you are acting as an ambassador for the university and the state, there possibly is a line there that differentiates that freedom of speech,” Crowe said.

So, he, and the rest of the Republican delegation in the state Senate, are asking university leaders to implement policy that would ban athletes from protesting. Another legislator, state Sen. Paul Bailey of Sparta, shared a copy of the letter on Twitter.

— Sen. Paul Bailey (@PaulBaileyforTN) February 23, 2021

The letter comes a week after the men’s basketball team at East Tennessee State University decided to kneel during the national anthem. Republican lawmakers quickly criticized the demonstration.

But, ETSU Coach Jason Shay has defended his team, saying the players didn’t mean to disrespect veterans or others who have defended the interests of the United States.

“No one knows the sacrifice, the fear, the pain, the anxiety, the loss that they’ve experienced fighting for our country’s freedom and rights,” Shay told the Johnson City Press. “But many of us don’t know the same sacrifice, fear, pain and loss the people of color have had to endure over 400 years.”

He said his team “is a daily reminder to me that some things are just bigger than basketball.”

The response of GOP lawmakers is their latest move to shut down peaceful racial justice demonstrations.

Last year they passed a bill that makes camping on state property a felony. This came after activists protesting police brutality and racism spent weeks on the plaza in front of the Tennessee State Capitol.

Copyright 2021 WPLN News

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.