Push to stop college athletes in Tennessee from taking a knee during the national anthem

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — All 27 members of the Senate Republican Caucus signed a letter to all presidents and chancellors of public Tennessee colleges asking them to have policies that wouldn’t allow student-athletes to kneel during the national anthem.

Democratic Senator Raumesh Akbari called the letter disappointing.

“To a certain extent, it makes you think of the phrasing ‘just shut up and dribble,’” Akbari said.

The 27 members of the Senate Republican Caucus signed and sent the letter Monday to 10 Tennessee colleges, including the University of Memphis.

The letter is in reaction to the East Tennessee State men’s basketball team kneeling during the anthem before a game last week.

In the letter, university presidents and chancellors are asked to “adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward.”

“These are athletes,” Akbari said. “These are young adults. There’s no reason why we as elected officials need to intervene in this way.”

FOX13 reached out and left messages to some of the senators who signed the letter, including Brian Kelsey of Germantown, representing District 31, but has not heard back.

The letter states while realizing student-athletes can express views on their own time, “we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or flag while they are representing our state universities.”

“When folks get caught up in this is disrespectful,” Akbari said. “They’re not actually asking the people who are doing the kneeling what their intentions are. It’s not to disrespect the flag or our country, or our veterans or our armed veterans now.”

This letter comes at a time when student-athletes locally and nationally are using their platform to speak on social issues.

Back in the summer, Ole Miss and Mississippi State athletes were among those protesting to change the state flag featuring a confederate emblem.

Akbari said allowing student-athletes in Tennessee to express themselves on issues important to them will ultimately benefit the state’s public universities.

“I think in Tennessee, we want to continue to promote an environment of inclusivity so that student-athletes can feel that their talents and they themselves as people will be appreciated when they come to our state universities,” she said. “I think that this sort of statement kind of sends the exact opposite message.”