The Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team knelt during the national anthem on Saturday before their game against the Florida Gators. Kneeling players in college athletics have been few and far between, which made this gesture, in the wake of the violent attempted coup at the Capitol, brave. What proved it was brave was the backlash players expected and instantly experienced.
First, we had a county sheriff and his jailer buddy burn some Kentucky shirts on Facebook. The same dude is now collecting gear from other pissed off "fans."
Then Kentucky Senate President Robert Sivers CRIED on the Senate floor Monday while addressing the basketball players kneeling because he is from a military family. As the backlash took off, Calipari defended his players' actions on his Monday radio show, pointing out that some of those kids and the Kentucky AD are all from military families. Via the Courier-Journal:
"Six of these players come from military families," he said. "Either their father was in the military, their brother, their uncle, a couple of them, their grandfathers. They were in the military. This wasn’t about the military. ... (Athletic director) Mitch Barnhart comes from a military family. We are supportive of all those things and our school is. But this came from their heart, and it was peaceful."
Quite frankly, John Calipari and Kentucky should be able to tell anyone who doesn't support their black athletes to go root for Louisville. Cal won a title in Kentucky. He has a complete resume and he's 61 years-old. He's the highest-paid public employee in the state. He can retire or go coach at any other university he wants at any time. Kentucky fans would be wise to remember that.
Which makes it even more disappointing that he would say anything that even resembled backing off the complete support of his players. Via Yahoo!:
“I didn’t know about it until 90 minutes before the game,” Calipari told reporters in a news conference. “We’ve had a talk since then about — you don’t need to speak, you need to have action,” Calipari said. “How do you bring people together? How do you make a difference? Not just how do you make a statement? ... “They’re 18 years old. They’re learning. These kids are good kids. They’ve got good hearts. This political time, probably not a real good time to do it.”
Now, if you listen to the full clip Cal again points out it wasn't about the military. And it sounds less like he's backing down than legitimately discussing with the players how they might take action, which I think is unfair to ask of a group of teenagers, but here we are. Athletes as leaders because those in a position are too scared or bought to do what's right.
The real problem with this is that Cal says it was maybe not the right time to do this. If not now, when? This would have been the reaction no matter when they did it. After all the horrible stuff these guys have grown up seeing, it's hard to imagine something worse than what we almost saw last week. This was the perfect time and hopefully that's how the Kentucky coach feels deep down. And hopefully that's how those players feel he feels because if they don't have the support of their coach, then they'll never have the support of that state or this country.