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Tennessee Republicans suggest public universities prohibit players from kneeling during anthem

27 state senators signed a letter to the state's nine public universities encouraging them to disincentivize the behavior

Tip-off to start the game between the Arizona Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins
Tip-off to start the game between the Arizona Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins
(Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images)
Updated: February 25, 2021 - 3:30pm

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Tennessee lawmakers are asking the state's nine public Division I universities to enforce policies that prohibit student athletes from kneeling as the playing of the national anthem.

The letter – which appears to be a response to the East Tennessee State University men's basketball team, whose players knelt for the anthem during a mid-February game – was signed by all of the state's 27 Republican senators.

The act of kneeling during the anthem was originally popularized by former NFL player and current activist Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling while he was a player for the San Francisco 49ers.

Supporters of the act – which became popular in sports leagues across the country – say it's meant to be a form of peaceful protest against issues pertaining to racial injustice in the United States.

The Tennessee state senators and others say the act could be viewed as disrespectful to the country and the U.S. flag, which is traditionally raised during most college and pro games while the anthem is played.

"While we recognize our student-athletes may express their own views on a variety of issues in their personal time, we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or our flag while they are representing our state universities," reads the letter. "When they don the jersey of a Tennessee university, they step out of their personal roles and into the role of an ambassador to our state. To address this issue, we encourage each of you to adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward."

The request could boil down to a First Amendment issue, in which university administrators argue that students have the right to peacefully protest.

Democratic state senators have warned the institutions that in the past lawmakers have successfully pulled funding to public universities as a way of curbing behaviors of which they disapproved.

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