Several Bluefield College athletes were suspended, barred from commenting to the media, and forced to forfeit an upcoming game for engaging in a peaceful protest they say their school officials had previously shown their support for. The young athletes stated they made plans to kneel during the national anthem before all of their games to demonstrate
their views on the recent rise in police brutality. Some of the basketball players say they made these plans in the company of the African American College Athletic Director Tonia Walker and Bluefield College President David Olive. According to the athletes in attendance, both the president and the athletics director supported and approved of this form of protest. Athlete Jewels Gray was quoted saying, “Why would our school contradict what they said? 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”.
According to Bluefield College President, David Olive, he found an issue with the athletes’ public display after they took a knee during the anthem at their first game. He voiced his concerns saying, “I have heard and I understand the perspective of our players as to why they desire to kneel during the National Anthem. I also know this form of protest immediately shuts down a number of individuals from listening to the intended message because of their
perspective regarding the flag. No individual’s sincere motives are inherently wrong. But I continue to contend that we will not get to where we want AND NEED to get as a country in addressing these racial issues without making honest attempts at creating pathways that bring people together for a common cause,”. After that first game, President David Olive implemented a “new rule” forbidding the school’s athletes from kneeling during the national anthem. Upon being informed of this sudden change to school policy, the basketball players decided to continue with their plans to take a knee during the national anthem at their second game.
When President Olive was informed of the team’s decision, Richard Morgan, Bluefield College’s Head Coach, was tasked with issuing a warning to the students in question. Not to be deterred, the Bluefield College basketball team was later photographed kneeling and linking arms during the national anthem. In response to their disregard of his newly implemented rule,
President Olive suspended the entire basketball team. Subsequently, forcing their school to forfeit an NAIA game that was supposed to be played against Reinhardt. He then barred Bluefield College athletes from attending any interviews or issuing any press releases regarding the incident in question. Bluefield College President David Olive had this to say about his response; “The basis for my decision stemmed from my own awareness of how kneeling is perceived by some in our country, and 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.”