Penn basketball players singing national anthem explain protest

Ahead of Penn’s home opener Tuesday against Lafayette, all but three of the Penn Quakers’ male basketball players were sitting on the team bench during the national anthem, with some joining their arms. Two assistant coaches were seated. Head Coach Steve Donahue stood just past the end of the bench.

The discussion is not over, cannot be over. This is the overall message the Quakers want to project, said a few team captains, when you see most of the men on the basketball team sitting during the anthem, at home at the Palestra or on the road. .

“We want people to take notice,” said Lucas Monroe, captain of the Penn team. “We want them to ask us about this. … People see us sitting for the flag. Obviously, some people don’t like it. We saw that in Tallahassee [when Penn opened at Florida State.] We saw it at George Mason. And even here, a lot of people are not going to like it. But it makes them think, why are they sitting? What problems do they sit for? Why are they doing this?

He really wants to think about it, investigate it.

“Why could these children be sitting when no one else is?” Monroe said.

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The backs of all Penn warm-up tops say either TIE or SAY HIS NAME. This, Monroe clarified, is not a one-point protest.

“Most guys, their reasons for sitting down, there are issues in America that have always been here, that has to do with how you look, the way you identify yourself,” Monroe said, explaining how many people in Philadelphia are at a disadvantage. .

“We’ve had a lot of internal conversations about how the guys felt about their experience in this country as young black men,” said Jelani Williams, also captain. “There are still a lot of people in the prison-industrial complex. The pay gap is widening day by day. There is a bunch of stuff.

“We see racial gaps in just about every aspect of life, be it health care, education, housing. So for us it’s about shedding light on the fact that while the anthem says America stands for freedom, justice and equality for all – the land of freedom – we want to highlight the fact that she doesn’t always measure up to that. . We just want to continue this conversation and let everyone know that this is how we feel. “

“What I would tell you is that we talked hours and hours, maybe a hundred hours during the pandemic, on that issue, ”Donahue said. “They articulate it and they give it good reasons. I think they deserve this freedom of expression. They do it with respect. I think it’s a personal decision. I support them.

“A lot of some of the feedback we’ve received from sitting down kind of sheds light on the issue,” said Williams. “We went to the state of Florida… we got booed and yelled at and one of our guys’ little siblings had a verbal argument with one of the fans there which left them in tears. . Myself, I have been called an insult by a fan in the state of Florida.

It was during a dead ball while he was on the field, Williams said.

“He told me to stand up for the anthem and he called me the N word,” Williams said. “I was really expecting a backlash, boos and things like that. It was a little surreal for someone to be so close to the court and to hear it so directly. The way he looked at me, and things like that. It definitely struck me a little differently. At the end of the day it was something I felt like, yes we are doing this for the right reason.

They know, Williams and Monroe said, such reactions could happen in any gym in this country.

“So for us it’s about getting that reaction from people so that we can continue to have these conversations and try to act behind that,” Williams said. “For the moment, we are a team for the most part. “

Therefore, to say …

“Sitting as a team,” Williams said. “Represent what we believe in and what we want to be talked about and the issues we want illuminated, that we feel we have been sidelined after George Floyd, the verdict.”

One conversation they want people to have is how race influences people’s views on a whole range of issues.

One of the good things about their schedule, Monroe said, is that they’ll be broadcasting this conversation across the country, including upcoming trips to South Carolina and Arkansas.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this,” Monroe said. “We know exactly what to expect. There are going to be a lot of people who won’t like it, depending on where we are. There will be people who will applaud it and they will appreciate it. We kind of stay together. When we hear negative opinions about it, whether it’s in person at Florida State or then on Twitter, on social media, we’re perfectly prepared for it. “

Monroe explained that they had discussed as a team that none of this should distract them from the game – “that’s the most important thing,” he said. “The main goal right now is to win the game. Obviously after that we want to continue the conversation.

Did Donahue himself hear anything in the state of Florida that was derogatory to the point of being offensive?

“Yeah,” Donahue said. “It was bad.”

This week, the Quakers assistant coach Nat Graham has written an online essay called “Why We Sit.” Graham noted that it was understood that some supporters of the program may end their support, including financially. “There could be future consequences on the careers of players and staff,” Graham wrote.

Graham noted that the protest “borrowed from what had been started by Colin Kaepernick, that like Kaepernick, the reasons Penn players were seated were not specific to policing in this country, nor as a sign of disrespect towards the army. For us, collectively, it was more of a statement regarding the institutional racism underway in this country and a hope of fostering a more truthful conversation in the future. We might not have a huge platform, but our players wanted to use the one we have to say we should be better as a country. “

READ MORE: Lucas Monroe is a basketball nerd

Graham wrote how black players know the story behind the anthem itself and have nuanced conversations about it, which the seated players support those who are standing.

“In the end, I chose to sit down,” Graham wrote, “because I not only wanted to show my solidarity and support for these young men whom I love as family, but I didn’t want to to be the white man who expressed support but was afraid to do anything that might cause personal unease.

Graham said he was told that an email was sent to Penn’s sports department, calling the players and the team “despicable and disrespectful.” He asked people to take a closer look at the story.

“Part of me as a parent, I just want to protect the kids,” Donahue said. “I would say, ‘Are you sure you want to go through this? If you do, I’m with you. I love you all.’ Our administration has been amazing, reaching out to every guy. ‘If there is something that you feel uncomfortable with [about], tell us, we can help you. ‘ I think as a university we really support these kids.

Donahue also said, “If I didn’t think it was genuine I would tell you and be uncomfortable. I am not uncomfortable.


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