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USA responds to #TakeAKnee movement

Muqit Asif Khan

Muqit Asif Khan

Krisha Amin, Web Editor

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The University of South Alabama had various responses to the recent controversy surrounding professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem..

USA issued statements last year on Nov. 28, 2016, through JagMail and again this school year on Aug. 17, 2017, concerning free speech, which extends to this subject matter.

“Freedom of speech is a right enshrined in our Constitution. It is also a responsibility,” a released statement by the Office of the President on Aug. 17, 2017 read.

While USA President Tony Waldrop has no doubt the topic of kneeling while the National Anthem plays has been discussed between coaches and players behind the scenes, he has so far neither heard nor seen any negativity from that end.

“I certainly support our students, whether they are athletes or not, to have the ability to have free speech,” Waldrop said. “On the other hand, I think that it is very important that they behave professionally. That doesn’t mean that there would be any action taken against our students if they participated in this behavior but obviously we’d want them to think about what they were doing and whatever they did to do it in a very professional way.”

Dr. Joel Erdmann, USA Director of Athletics, noted that there would be no consequences with regards to scholarships if USA student athletes, who were present on the field or court while the National Anthem was playing, did decide to protest.

“I think part of the administration’s role is to make sure that if students and student athletes are considering doing something, know why and what their internal reason for doing something of that nature is, whether it is at a sporting event or in some other setting,” Erdmann said. “Just make sure you have a clear understanding why you are doing what you might be doing because it’s a very visible and passionate topic for many people.”

Most of the time, student athletes are in the locker room when the National Anthem is playing. This is primarily because of the peculiars of a respective sport and the way game operations are run. Baseball, softball, soccer, track and basketball are some exceptions; these players are on the field when the National Anthem is being played.

So far in these individual sporting facets, there has not been a notable standout moment where a USA student athlete has engaged in this behavior.

“Last year, this became a topic and it’s a topic now so I anticipate more conversation about it,” Erdmann said.

 “There was a little bit of talk back when the first instances occurred and we put out the statement,” Waldrop said. “The free speech statement is true now just as much as it was then and it will be true in the future, so I wouldn’t say there’s a buzz going around within the administration or among the coaches.”

Yet, Waldrop mentioned that USA’s current free speech stance could change if the University was called out for certain actions taken by students. This would depend on the nature of the action, primarily whether it was disturbing and loud or not.

“I and the leadership of the University support the ability for our students,” Waldrop said. “I’m not saying go do it. You have the right to do it, but please don’t do it in a way that would be disruptive, and I do not consider the things that have been done so far to be disruptive.”

So far, the African American Student Association instigated the “South Sits” protests last year, where 20 to 30 students sat while the anthem was playing. They protested at three home football games.

“We did get some flack from some people who did not support the protest, but we will be continuing it this year,” AASA President Chelsia Douglas said.

AASA did not report any troubles with the University for exercising their freedom of expression.

“In college, you are trying to find yourself so you are trying to understand both sides of the story,” Douglas said. “You are trying to understand what the protesters are saying about the inequalities in the United States but you are also trying to understand the national pride side of it.”

Because of the history encapsulating this topic, there is support for either side of this discussion.

“The veterans of the University of South Alabama are well read, global travelers, and patriots,” Daniel Sundbeck, former President of the Student Veterans of America USA chapter, said. “We do not promote nor condemn this type of behavior perpetuated by the NFL or President Trump. I would be disheartened if coaches began allowing such foolishness to take place at college level sporting events.”

For some people, taking the knee is more than a symbol. It’s about the internal plight that unfortunately defines people of color.

“It’s not about the flag,” Douglas said. “It’s not about the country as a whole or about the patriotism. It’s not about disrespecting the military. There are military personnel who are also involved in the protests. It’s not necessarily about the National Anthem. It’s about the justice system. It’s about the government and it’s about the hidden oppression inside of the government. I think that’s what people need to understand.”

Both Waldrop and Erdmann admit that they don’t really know why such an iconic protest hasn’t been picked up at the collegiate level. However anything is possible.

“I’d only be guessing quite frankly,” Waldrop said. “Who knows? It seemed to die away for a while and now it’s flared way back up and it could roll over into college athletics as well. Right now, with things happening nationally, it’s hard to predict anything.”

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USA responds to #TakeAKnee movement