A powerful, respectful, original, diversity-filled moment preceded Kent State's home tip-off against Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday night.
With the KSU band set to play the national anthem, members of the team went into the stands and surprised those in the crowd. Golden Flash players personally invited and escorted members of the crowd to come onto the floor and stand with them, to stand together, as the Star-Spangled Banner was played. Each player selected a person from a different race to stand next to them, and right there and then, one of the most uplifting and heartening moments you'll see anywhere in sports this week, this month, took place.
"The decision to use the national anthem as a time to show solidarity in our diverse campus community was made by the team's seniors and captains, not athletic department officials," Kent State wrote in a release after the game. "The student-athletes brought their idea to the athletic department's coaches and staff, who unanimously supported them in their decision. Kent State strives for inclusive excellence, and supporting this decision by student-athletes matched the core values of the university."
It was a touching, simple and effective display of American and civil unity.
Images from today's National Anthem ceremony, so proud of our guys for this great showing of solidarity! pic.twitter.com/SK6ME2kbqP— Kent State Athletics (@KentStAthletics) November 17, 2016
"We understand all of the issues going on in our world," sophomore guard Jalen Avery said. "In these times, we felt it was important to show a sign of unity in our community."
This is a different kind of gesture during the national anthem, one that runs in contrast to the social and political protests seen by the likes of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Wisconsin senior star Nigel Hayes. More and more, we're seeing athletes find ways to express themselves during the anthem.
What's particularly interesting about the movement by Kent State is the team's plans to do this for each of its 16 home games.
ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman spoke with KSU player Deon Edwin, who told him as much.
"It was a special moment," senior guard Deon Edwin said after the game. "We all come together as one. It wasn't about color of skin. If we can do that at a small school, everyone can do it."
Edwin said the plan is to do the same for every home game this year. He's hoping it will catch on with other schools, and maybe even pro teams.
"I really do," he said. "Everyone watches college sports. If people see it happen, maybe they'll do it. Then maybe the pros will do it also. It's something we can all do together."
Kent State coach Rob Senderoff told ESPN.com that his team didn't want to make any statement in the form of a protest. It was all about doing something with as much positivity in connection to the anthem as possible.
We'll see if this remains something organic and only connected to Kent State, or if other teams do something similar. It's possible we'll still see plenty of displays during the national anthem throughout the college basketball season, which is only five days old.
"This is a great example of Kent State student-athletes stepping up as leaders in our diverse community," Kent State AD Joel Nielsen said in a written statement. "We encourage dialogue between coaches and student-athletes when it comes to these challenging issues. We will continue to foster an open environment for student-athletes of all beliefs, backgrounds and communities."
And as for the game, Kent State won 93-63, moving to 2-0 and winning its home opener for the 11th straight season.