Members of the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team believe their protests of racial inequality played a role in the resignation of their head coach, who showed support when the Buccaneers kneeled during the national anthem.
According to ESPN, the players feel that Jason Shay’s support, a stance that wasn’t held everywhere in the university and the state, led him to resign after just one season on the job.
"I personally feel like him resigning is crazy," ETSU freshman guard Truth Harris told ESPN. "It shows a lot of what is going on in this town, and in this country right now."
"All this about us kneeling, and then Coach Shay supporting us through all of that. People should want a coach that stands behind the players through anything," ETSU senior guard Jordan Coffin said in a video retweeted by Shay's college-age daughter, Peija Shay. "For that to be a part in why he has to resign, then I don't want no part of that."
Shay didn’t reference the protests when he resigned earlier this week, saying, “After much consultation and deliberation, I have decided it is in the best interest of myself, my family and the ETSU men’s basketball program to no longer continue as the head basketball coach. This past year has been extremely challenging for me in many different ways. It is the right time for a new challenge and an opportunity to reset my personal and professional goals.”
ETSU athletic director Scott Carter denied that Shay was forced to resign, releasing a statement that said, "ETSU did not fire Coach Shay nor force Coach Shay to resign. As outlined in the terms of the separation agreement, in Coach Shay's statement and in my previous statement, Coach Shay decided to resign."
ETSU has been having the protesting discussion since the men’s basketball team kneeled prior to a Feb. 15 game against Chattanooga. Shay and ETSU president Brian Noland showed support for the players, while Tennessee lawmakers asked the university to shut the protests down. A letter signed by every member of the Republican Caucus in the Tennessee Senate urged university leaders to adopt policies that prohibit similar demonstrations.
“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 February letter read.
ETSU went 13-12 in its first season under Shay, who had two years remaining on his contract. He isn’t the only one leaving the program, as six players have also announced their intention to transfer.
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