Eight players on the University of Mississippi’s basketball team took a knee during the national anthem at their home on Saturday as Confederate sympathizers gathered for a march and rally nearby.
The players — whose teams ironically is nicknamed the “Rebels” — bowed their heads as the anthem was sung at The Pavilion stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. At the same time, protesters from right-wing groups Confederate 901 and Hiwaymen gathered to march about a mile away.
Six players took a knee before the “Star-Spangled Banner” began, and two more joined on the last line, ESPN reported.
“The majority of it was we saw one of our teammates doing it and we just didn’t want him to be alone,″ top scoring guard Breein Tyree said at a press conference (see the video above at 1:35) after his team edged the University of Georgia, 72-71. “We’re just 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.”
He said later in a tweet that the teammates “meant no disrespect,” but “we had to take a stand to the negative things that went on today.”
Ole Miss Athletic director Ross Bjork supported the action.
“These people that come here and spill hate and bigotry and racism, we don’t want them on our campus. Our players stood up for that,” Bjork said at the press conference (see the video above).
Coach Kermit Davis also backed his players, though he had vowed in his first news conference last year that his would be a team “that “respects the flag and the national anthem.”
“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community to try to spread racism and bigotry,” Davis said Saturday. “Our players made an emotional decision to show these people they’re not welcome on our campus, and we respect our players’ freedom and ability to choose that.″
Outside the basketball arena, counter-protesters shouting “Who lost the war?” faced off against the fans of the Confederacy as the groups walked from one Confederate monument in downtown Oxford to another on campus, The Clarion-Ledger reported. The “Mississippi Stands Rally” was characterized by organizers as a “line in the sand” concerning the university’s decision to distance itself from its Confederate past.
There were no arrests or violence, according to the Ledger.