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Bluefield College forfeits game after men’s basketball players suspended for kneeling

School president said he would kneel with players “anywhere at any time” — just not during the National Anthem

Bluefield College
Bluefield College (WVVA)

Bluefield College forfeited its men’s basketball game on Thursday after the school’s president suspended all players who chose to kneel during the national anthem before several games, according to ESPN.

Players reportedly kneeled before several games in January and February despite the school’s president, David Olive, telling them to stop. The players kept kneeling, so Olive decided to suspend all of the athletes involved which forced a forfeit of the NAIA Division II Appalachian Athletic Conference game against Reinhardt.

In his statement to WVVA, Olive provided a timeline to back up his decision:

Jan. 30

During a home basketball game against Bryan College, players kneeled during the National Anthem and a local television station recorded the moment and later aired it during the 11 p.m. newscast.

The station asked the college for a comment, and a statement was sent without the involvement of the school’s public relations and marketing team or Olive.

Feb. 1

Staff found out what happened at Saturday’s game via social media.

Olive held a meeting with the coaching staff and said that he and his team need to be notified and involved earlier in the process when it comes to similar situations in the future.

Olive said in his statement that he met with VP Tonia Walker and Coach Richard Morgan, and told the coach that kneeling would not be allowed at any sporting events going forward.

The basis for my decision stemmed from my own awareness of how kneeling is perceived by some in our country, and I did not think a number of our alumni, friends, and donors of the College would view the act of kneeling during the anthem in a positive way. As I conveyed this to VP Walker and Coach Morgan, I denoted that anytime a student athlete puts on a jersey that says “Bluefield College” on it, the message is no longer just the student athlete’s message but that it becomes the message of Bluefield College. Pointing to the already fractured and divided nature of our country, I did not want Bluefield College contributing to the further divide; rather, I wanted the College to bring people together in a united effort to address issues of racial injustice.

David Olive, Bluefield College president
Feb. 2

Players kneeled again during the anthem at an away game at Truett McConnell University.

Feb. 4

Coach Morgan kept the players in the locker room during the anthem.

Feb. 5

Olive met with the team for two hours and explained why kneeling wasn’t allowed.

Players reportedly shared their personal experiences with racism and racial injustices.

Olive said that “we could not reconcile,” but that options including staying in the locker room were discussed.

Feb. 8

The video from the previously mentioned news story started gaining attention.

Feb. 9

The school issued a press release in an attempt to respond to “erroneous, and at times maligning, information being shared about our student-athletes and the College.”

“That message, however, was overshadowed as the team once again knelt during the anthem at the home game with Tennessee Wesleyan University (Feb. 9). Following the game, I shared with Coach Morgan that there would be consequences for the actions of the players for violating the College policy.”

It goes without saying that this has been a challenging process for all parties involved. I have heard and I understand the perspective of our players as to why they desire to kneel during the National Anthem. I also know this form of protest immediately shuts down a number of individuals from listening to the intended message because of their perspective regarding the flag. No individual’s sincere motives are inherently wrong. But I continue to contend that we will not get to where we want AND NEED to get as a country in addressing these racial issues without making honest attempts at creating pathways that bring people together for a common cause.

David Olive, Bluefield College president

According to what Bluefield College football player Jewels Gray told ESPN, this action goes directly against what the team was told before the season started. ESPN reports that Gray is close with many players on the basketball team and said he talked about the suspensions with the players.

Gray said that basketball players were told that they were not allowed to release a statement of their own or talk to the media.

“Why would our school contradict what they said?” Gray said to ESPN. “We had meetings before the season with [the athletic director] and the president, and they stated that we can kneel and they’d support and be behind us, 100%.”

“Dr. Olive and VP Walker never told Mr. Gray, the team, or any other athletics team that they could kneel during the national anthem,” a Bluefield College representative said in an email sent on Feb. 15 after seeing this article.

In an effort to show support, Gray walked out of football practice this week and took to social media to voice his concern.

Olive said that players and students have asked about their First Amendment rights, which he says don’t apply to this situation.

“As I shared with the team and these other students, you give up some of those rights when you step foot on our campus. We are a private entity, not a governmental entity. We have policies and guidelines throughout the student handbook and the academic catalog that limit certain rights you otherwise might have elsewhere, such as in your home or in a public venue.”

Olive closed out his statement by saying he would kneel with players “anywhere at any time as an expression of my solidarity with you to bring about racial justice and equality, except during the National Anthem.”

About the Author:

Samantha Smith joined WSLS 10’s award-winning digital team as a digital content producer in July 2018.