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UK Backs Men's Basketball Players Kneeling in Protest

Brock Fritz

The University of Kentucky’s leaders have showed support for its players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s road win over Florida.

Three days after Donald Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., every Kentucky player and staff member took a knee during the anthem. The knee marked a change in the Wildcats’ social justice protests, according to The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker, who said Kentucky has typically been staying in the locker room for the anthem. WCJV-TV’s Cierra Clark also posted a photo of Florida sophomore Scottie Lewis taking a knee.

"It's a lot of stuff that goes on every day that we knelt for," Keion Brooks Jr. said, according to Tucker, of the decision to kneel. "The Capitol, that stuff had a part to play in it, but there are some other things we don't see that go on every day that are unacceptable, that we want to take a stand against."

The protest led to some local backlash. According to the Louisville Courier Journal and Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones, Laurel County sheriff John Root posted a Facebook video burning a Kentucky basketball shirt because the team “disrespected the American flag and our national anthem.” Jailer Jamie Mosley also threw a shirt in the fire.

Knox County officials asked state lawmakers to defund the university "to reallocate tax funding from unpatriotic recipients to hard working Kentucky [taxpayers] across this Commonwealth," according to the Times-Tribune.

“We understood that our gesture would have consequences,” Kentucky senior Olivier Sarr said. “We just want people to understand. We knew some people would be mad or pissed, but we just want people to understand it’s a peaceful way to protest."

ESPN reported that UK president Eli Capilonto and athletic director Mitch Barnhart showed their support Monday.

"A value we all hold dear in our country is the right of free speech and self-expression," Capilouto and Barnhart said in a joint statement. "That right for young students such as these is important, too, as they learn, grow, and find out who they are and what they believe. We won't always agree on every issue. However, we hope to agree about the right of self-expression, which is so fundamental to who we are as an institution of higher learning. We live in a polarized and deeply divided country. Our hope — and that of our players and our coaches — is to find ways to bridge divides and unify."

According to the Courier Journal, head coach John Calipari has also been supportive of the protest. Calipari said he heard that same players wanted to kneel, met with the team’s leadership council and asked if they wanted him to join.

"I said OK, I’ll kneel with you," Calipari said. "It’s something that speaks for itself. These kids are good kids. They care about this country and all the other stuff. They’re trying to figure out life and making statements they think they have to make. I want to listen to what they’re saying, and then I’ll support them if they want me to be there. If they said we’re good by ourselves, I probably wouldn’t have been out there."

Related content: Bucks, Pistons Kneel in Protest After Opening Tip

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