Eight Ole Miss basketball players knelt during the national anthem prior to the Rebels’ 72-71 win over Georgia on Saturday.
The protest from the players was in response to a march that was held in Oxford concurrently with the basketball game. Protestors marched from The Square to The Circle on Ole Miss’ campus in defense of Confederate monuments in the city memorializing fallen Confederate soldiers.
Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis defended his players who knelt during the anthem following the game.
“That was all about the hate groups that came to our community and tried to spread racism and bigotry,” Davis said. “It has created a lot of tension for our campus. I think our players made an emotional decision to show these people they aren’t welcome on our campus.
“We respect our player’s freedom and ability to choose that.”
When the teams lined up across the court at the free throw line, six Ole Miss players – Devontae Shuler, Bruce Stevens, KJ Buffen, D.C. Davis, Brian Halums, and Luis Rodriguez – took a knee. Two other players – Breein Tyree and Franco Miller – later joined them.
“The majority of it was just that we saw one of our teammates doing it and didn’t want him to be alone,” Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree said. “We’re just tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus like we have these hate groups in our actual school.”
While the storyline in Oxford extended off the court on Saturday, No. 7 Tennessee was in Baton Rouge to take on No. 13 LSU. The Vols battled throughout but fell 82-80 in overtime to the Tigers as questionable officiating stole the show.
Now both teams turn their attention to one another. Losers of two out of three, the Vols will travel to Oxford on Wednesday night to take on the Rebels, who have won five of their last six. At 19-8 on the season and 9-5 in SEC play, Ole Miss has been the biggest surprise in the SEC this season.
But heading into the game, basketball isn’t the biggest storyline. Instead, it’s what has taken place off the court over the last couple of days that’s stealing the show.
When asked on Monday if he had addressed the situation with his team, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes stated that the team had a day off yesterday, implying he hadn’t had the chance to.
“I really admire and understand those young men because one thing they made clear is they had no intention of disrespecting the American flag,” Barnes said. “It was all about the fact that the hate crime that they felt like that had to demonstrate. I admire them for that.
“That shouldn’t be anywhere. I think the way their administration and Kermit handled that is terrific. I think the fact they were willing to stand up for what they believe, we all should believe actually is a good thing.”
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork was quick to defend the players Saturday evening, stating in a release that the administration will always support their student-athletes for standing up against people who don’t define Ole Miss and its community.
“Our job is to teach and educate every single day,” Bjork said. “They’re students. They see what’s happening on our campus and these people come here and spill hate and bigotry and racism. We don’t want them on our campus.
“Our players stood for that. It had nothing to do with the anthem.”
Tennessee and Ole Miss are set to tip off at 7 p.m. ET in Oxford. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.