Eight members of the Ole Miss basketball team — KJ Buffen, D.C. Davis, Brian Halums, Luis Rodriguez, Devontae Shuler, Bruce Stevens, Breein Tyree and Franco Miller Jr. — took a knee during all or part of the national anthem Saturday to protest the pro-Confederate rally prior to the team’s tip off against Georgia. The protest was spontaneous according to Tyree, who knelt during the anthem’s final line and told reporters after the game that players hadn’t discussed plans to kneel.
The players' statement came after members of two pro-Confederate groups marched to the campus of Ole Miss after rallying around a nearby Confederate statue on Saturday. The rally, which according to Rivals.com had been a source of concern for weeks, drew a number of counter-protesters, some of whom happened to be in uniform on the court for the Rebels.
“We’re just tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus like it’s our actual university having these hate groups in our school,” Tyree said. “The majority of it was we saw one of our teammates doing it and we just didn’t want him to be alone.”
Kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events has become a topic of debate since Colin Kaepernick first did so in 2016. Some view it as a silent protest of racial injustice, others view it as being disrespectful of the flag and the military.
Rivals reports that some boos could be heard after the playing of the national anthem concluded, but head coach Kermit Davis and AD Ross Bjork supported the players.
Statements from today pic.twitter.com/amFGSCdd5l— Ole Miss Basketball (@OleMissMBB) February 24, 2019
“They see what’s happening on our campus and these people that come here and spill hate and bigotry and racism, we don’t want them on our campus,” Bjork said. “Our players stood up for that. It had nothing to do with the anthem. It had nothing to do with anything beyond, ‘You know what, we don’t want these people here. They’re protesting during our game and that’s not right because that’s not the Ole Miss that I know.’ “
“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community that came to try to spread racism and bigotry,” Davis said. “It’s created a lot of tension for our campus. I think our players made an emotional decision to show these people they’re not welcome on our campus. We respect our players’ freedom and ability to choose that.”
Tyree later further clarified that his decision to kneel was not meant as a sign of disrespect
To the people that fight for this country, my teammates and I meant no disrespect to everything that you do for us, but we had to take a stand to the negative things that went on today on our campus. #WeNeedChange— Breein Tyree (@Breety5) February 23, 2019
The pro-Confederate protesters and counter protesters were kept separated by police, and both dispersed during the game’s second half. Ole Miss won the game 72-71.