In response to supporters of President Donald Trump storming the Capitol building in Washington D.C. on Wednesday while lawmakers worked to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the November election, the University of Kentucky's men's basketball team undertook an on-court protest on Saturday in which players and coaches kneeled during the national anthem.
The move by the players and coaches upset some among the Wildcats fanbase, including a local sheriff.
Sheriff John Root of Laurel County, Kentucky posted a video to Facebook on Sunday of himself and a jailer burning Kentucky T-shirts that commemorated some of the Final Four runs the program has made. Root called for coach John Calipari to get his players "under control" before throwing his shirt into a barrel holding the flame. The since-deleted video was then posted on Twitter through Kentucky sports radio host Matt Jones.
These two were not the only public officials to decry Kentucky's peaceful protest. Other local officials reportedly called on state lawmakers to defund the university. One specific call came from Knox Fiscal Court, asking through a resolution for Kentucky "to reallocate tax funding from unpatriotic recipients to hard working Kentucky [taxpayers] across this Commonwealth."
In light of the backlash, University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto and athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced Monday in a joint statement that the players and coaches who chose to kneel prior to the team's win against Florida on Saturday have their full support and support of the school:
"A value we all hold dear in our country is the right of free speech and self-expression. That right for young students such as these is important, too, as they learn, grow, and find out who they are and what they believe. We won't always agree on every issue. However, we hope to agree about the right of self-expression, which is so fundamental to who we are as an institution of higher learning. We live in a polarized and deeply divided country. Our hope -- and that of our players and our coaches -- is to find ways to bridge divides and unify."
Calipari then went on his radio show Monday to explain the team's decision to kneel during the national anthem.
"It was all the images that they saw and they wanted to have their voice heard, and I said, well, 'Tell me what it's about,'" he said. "They talked to me about it. Then they said, 'We'd like you to kneel with us,' which I did. I held my heart, but I did kneel with them because I support the guys. But it wasn't about military. Six of these players come from military families ... This wasn't about the military."