OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss basketball coach Kermit Davis defended the players who knelt during the national anthem, saying they did so in direct response to the pro-Confederate rally that was taking place on campus at the same time.
“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community and tried to spread racism and bigotry … in our community,” Davis said during his postgame press conference. “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, and we respect our players’ freedom and ability to choose that.”
As many as eight Ole Miss basketball players knelt during the national anthem prior to the Rebels’ 72-71 win over Georgia on Saturday.
Ole Miss’ basketball game was played concurrently to a march that was held in Oxford on Saturday in defense of Confederate monuments and iconography in the city. Protesters and counter-protesters marched from The Square to The Circle on Ole Miss’ campus, beginning and ending their march at Oxford’s two monuments memorializing fallen Confederate soldiers.
Ole Miss guard Breein Tyree didn’t participate in the kneeling protests, but he said his teammates decided to do it as a way to rally around one another and show what they believe Ole Miss truly represents.
“I don’t think there was any discussion,” Tyree said. “I think it just kind of intertwined with what coach said. We’re tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus like it’s our actual university having these hate groups in our school. Majority of it was we saw one of our teammates doing it and we didn’t want him to be alone.”
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork also made a staunch defense of the players, saying he was proud of them for standing up to out-of-state protesters who do not represent “the Ole Miss that I know.”
“Our job is to teach and educate every single day,” Bjork said. “They’re human. They’re students. They see what’s happening on our campus. These people that come here and they spill hate and bigotry and racism, we don’t want them on our campus. Our players stood up for that.
“It had nothing to do with the anthem. It had nothing to do with anything beyond we don’t want those people here, they’re protesting during our game and that’s not right because that’s not the Ole Miss that I know.
“We talked to them about that in the locker room. We support them because we don’t want those people here either. The university doesn’t want them. Our town doesn’t want them. They’re out-of-state. They’re not from here. So good for the players to stand up and make a statement.”
Nick Suss writes for The Clarion Ledger in Mississippi, part of the USA TODAY Network.