A week after the men’s basketball team at East Tennessee State University took a knee during the national anthem prior to a game against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, lawmakers are entreating university leaders to not allow it to happen again.
The Nashville Tennessean reports that the entire Republican caucus of the state senate signed on to a letter, addressed to all presidents and chancellors of public universities in the state, urging them to adopt policies that would prohibit similar demonstrations in the future.
“While we recognize our student athletes may express their own views on a variety of issues in their personal time, we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or flag while they are representing our state universities,” the letter reads.
ETSU coach Jason Shay and university president Brian Noland have said in the wake of the team’s protest that kneeling during the national anthem is not intended to show disrespect, but rather as a means of prompting discussions on racial inequality.
The signatories to the letter argue that the First Amendment may not extend to student-athletes in uniform.
The Tennessean reports that a joint government operations committee meeting on Monday brought in a member of the University of Tennessee’s general counsel team to discuss the issue.
"They're representing the school and the school represents Tennessee and Tennessee shows preference to our time-honored people and institutions who went before us,” state Sen. Janice Bowling said during the meeting. “We respect our heritage and our history."
Meanwhile, leaders across the aisle sought to get to what they viewed as the root of the problem.
"If we're going to really try to not be divisive, what can we do to make people not want to kneel?" state Rep. Vincent Dixie asked the committee. "What can we do to take that out of the equation? What is causing them to kneel in a peaceful protest?"
General counsel told the committee that they were looking into concerns about free expression, but noted that student codes of conduct protect First Amendment rights.