Officials at a Virginia college chose to forfeit a basketball game instead of allowing players to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.
Bluefield College in western Virginia forfeited the Appalachian Athletic Conference game on Thursday after suspending several players for taking a knee during the anthem before games in January and February, Sports Illustrated reported.
The Christian school is part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
School President David Olive said in a lengthy statement to local NBC-affiliated WVVA-TV that the “basis” for his decision to suspend players “stemmed from my own awareness of how kneeling is perceived by some in our country.”
“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,” he added.
He said he didn’t become aware that players were kneeling until early February. When Olive finally learned of it, he said he told head coach Richard Morgan that it “would not be allowed going forward.” Players ignored the demand, and Morgan at one point kept his players in the locker room during the anthem to avoid the issue.
Bluefield football player Jewels Gray told ESPN that the basketball team had been told before the season that they could kneel in protest. But they have now been told not to speak to the media about the issue, he added.
“Why would our school contradict what they said?” Gray asked. “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 percent.”
A Bluefield College representative told HuffPost that Olive and Walker never told Gray, the team, or any other athletics team that they could kneel during the national anthem.
Olive, who is white, said in his statement that the school is working on setting up forums on campus to discuss racial inequality. But he insisted that “this form of protest” — kneeling — “immediately shuts down a number of individuals from listening to the intended message because of their perspective regarding the flag.”
Kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice became an inflammatory issue after NFL player Colin Kaepernick began the peaceful demonstration, and former president Donald Trump demanded the National Football League fire any player who did so.
This story has been updated with response from Bluefield College on Gray’s statement.