Southern Illinois University is walking back a new policy that would have made any political activism by student-athletes in uniform grounds for dismissal.
According to the Paducah (Ky.) NBC affiliate, SIU received extensive feedback on the language used in the new policy, which came after a group of three cheerleaders — all of whom were black — took a knee during the national anthem at an SIU sporting events last year.
The SIU athletics department said recent feedback on the new policy has the school rethinking the policy, noting that it was never intended to restrict student-athletes’ freedom of speech.
The school’s statement reads as follows:
We have heard a great deal of feedback, both positive and negative, on the proposed addition to the SIU Student Athlete Handbook. The purpose of the addition was to display unity and to provide a positive experience for our student-athletes and Saluki fans. However, some have interpreted the language to suggest that our aim was to restrict the free speech rights of our students. That was never our intent. We fully support the free expression of ideas and opinions among our students and the entire Saluki family.
Given the community feedback, it appears that we somewhat missed the mark. We will revisit the language and do not plan to use it as currently written. Instead, we will work with our student-athletes to turn the language into a positive values statement related to the focus and purpose of athletics. We are grateful to all of those who have reached out with constructive feedback. All input helps us to do our best.
The policy as it was originally introduced was worded as follows:
“It is a privilege and not a right to be a student-athlete, cheerleader or spirit member at Southern Illinois University (SIU). Members of the department including student-athletes, cheerleaders and spirit members must remain neutral on any issue political in nature when wearing SIU official uniforms and when competing/performing in official department of athletics events and activities. Any display (verbal or non-verbal) of activism (either for or against) a political issue will not be tolerated, and may result in dismissal from the program.”