When players on the Razorback women’s basketball team knelt during the national anthem before they played Oklahoma Baptist University in its only exhibition game of the season, it sparked criticism from several political figures and public statements of support from university officials.
On the night of Nov. 3, the Razorbacks weighed in on the protest. Six players on the Razorback women’s basketball team knelt during the national anthem. After the game, the whole team filed into the press conference in support of their teammates and head coach Jimmy Dykes, who spoke to the media as well.
“Recently you all know that there’s been a lot of killings from police officers of African Americans and of other minorities” sophomore guard Jordan Danberry said. “And me and my teammates took a knee today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. The student athletes, the Razorback student athletes, we have a platform to do that. So this situation, people have turned a blind eye to it and we’re here to raise awareness of these situations, because we do live in an unjust system and we’re just here to speak for those who are oppressed.”
Dykes said he respects the actions of his players.
“One of the things I’ve learned as a coach is how important it is to listen to your young ladies,” Dykes said, holding back tears. “We have had tremendous dialogue as a staff with (the players) over the last couple of weeks.”
The men’s basketball team took the court against Emporia State University on Nov. 4. The crowd stood and watched as all 19 members of the men’s basketball program stood with their hands over their hearts.
Men’s head basketball coach Mike Anderson made it clear that this was not his decision – he did not encourage the team to stand or kneel and it was purely the team’s decision.
“Sometimes there are other ways you can express the things that are going on,” Anderson said. “The biggest topic right now is social injustice, and it’s true, there’s evidence, it’s there. But how do you express, whether it be a peaceful protest, how do you do that? That’s what we talked about. And in the end, I told them my beliefs, I’m going to stand for the flag ... for our military, for our law enforcement, there’s no question about it. I’m going to stand and salute it. I’m glad to see our guys, for the most part, they’re doing their own thing. I mean they’re doing what they want to do. But they seem like they followed my lead.”
The women’s team’s protest sparked discussion throughout Arkansas as state officials reacted to the players’ actions and took to social media.
Sen. Jim Hendren (R-District 2) tweeted a picture of military caskets and called the women disrespectful. Gov. Asa Hutchinson retweeted that tweet.
Rep. Laurie Rushing (R-District 26) responded to Hendren's tweet saying “I might just take a knee on UofA funding. Leadership needs to step up!”
Rushing then released a statement on social media further explaining her stance and calling upon Dykes and Athletic Director Jeff Long to discourage the women from kneeling again.
“It is their job to make sure the players know they represent the university and the state of Arkansas while in uniform,” a part of her statement read. “I respect and encourage peaceful, personal protest, but it should not be encouraged using a state funded program and blessed by state funded employees.”
Around 10:45 p.m. Nov. 3, Long released a statement in support of the players.
“University campuses are places of learning and thus places where differences of opinion and varying perspectives are recognized,” a part of his statement read. “We respect the rights of our student-athletes and all individuals to express themselves on important issues in our nation.”
Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz also released a statement about the protest and defended the women who protested.
"While I encourage people to stand during the playing of the national anthem, as I choose to do, I will respect others who exercise free speech guaranteed to them by our Constitution,” Steinmetz said in a statement. “Our campus will continue to engage in productive and necessary dialogue until every member of our community feels respected and safe.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took notice of the basketball team’s protest. Kaepernick retweeted pictures and videos of the protest from his personal Twitter account.
Kneeling during the national anthem has become a trend, especially among high-profile athletes. Kaepernick started the movement when he knelt during the anthem before an NFL preseason game and has continued to kneel at every game since.
Danberry said she and the team were unsure if they will continue to kneel before each game.
“I think it’s something that I think we’ll talk about soon,” Danberry said.