SHS volleyball protest generates buzz

A photo taken from the stands at a Starkville High School volleyball match at New Hope High School on Monday, showing some of the team's players taking a knee during the National Anthem. (Courtesy)
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STARKVILLE DAILY NEWS

The Starkville High School volleyball team visited New Hope High School for a match on Monday night, but the action that got the most attention happened prior to the opening serve.

Several SHS players took a knee during the National Anthem, which was captured on social media and mirrored similar protests seen across the country over the last year.

The action was met with mixed reactions from those in the community, including administrators.

One SHS volleyball player, who the Starkville Daily News has chosen to not name, posted on Facebook: “We will stand for what we believe in. Nothing is wrong with kneeling for the National Anthem. It’s not disrespecting the military or the flag,” the post said. “We kneeled for social injustice. We can’t expect certain people to understand what we go through on a daily basis ... racism is still alive today and some people fail to realize that.”

The post was shared 275 times, with almost 400 "likes" and over 100 comments.

Many on social media spoke out against the protest, while others voiced their support for the team.

SCHOOL DISTRICT'S RESPONSE

Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Superintendent Eddie Peasant said the district has received some messages and complaints from members of the community, saying “Some of our students have made decisions without being thoughtful about the whole impact of it.”

“We are using this opportunity as a teachable moment for our students, and our focus has been on giving them information, tools and guidance on them making decisions and understanding the impact of decisions that they make to themselves and to others connected to them,” Peasant said.

Peasant said he wants students - especially student athletes - to understand the potential consequences of their actions.

“I want to make sure they understand they are not only representing themselves, but they are also representing their school and school district,” Peasant said. “Some of the decisions that teenagers make is based on things that they read and see outside of school and I believe it’s our responsibility to use moments like this to teach them about their choices and their decisions and help them understand.”

SHS volleyball coach Xavier Tillman would not reveal the names of the players who participated in the protest, but said she recognizes the student's right to express themselves and as a coach, she has no authority to enforce social or political views on them.

Tillman insisted only some players - and not the entire team - participated in the protest.

“They have their freedom of speech and that’s my thoughts on it," Tillman said. "We’ve won six straight games and that was my main focus and takeaway from the night. My position as a coach is to play ball. I don’t get into the political area, that’s not my lane.”

Peasant said the district has consulted its attorney and is reviewing the law and the district's policies before moving forward.

“(The school district's lawyer) has advised us to operate within the law and student’s rights that they have to our constitution and to not give it the attention that would cause it to be bigger than it has to be,” Peasant said.

Here are a few of the posts on Facebook both in support of and in opposition to the protest:

SUPPORTIVE POSTS

“Proud Of You Guys .. If Nobody Sees The Problem, They’re Just Apart Of It ! Keep KNEELING For What You Believe In!”

“That’s right babies stand up for what y’all believe in!!! They wanna make this argument about disrespecting a flag to take away from what the protest is all about POLICE BRUTALITY AND SYSTEMATIC RACISM!!”

“Do what you feel is right. It dosent (sic) matter what anyone else thinks. It’s always gonna be somebody who disagrees with something. As long as y’all are proud of your decisions no one else’s opinions matter.”

“I don’t know you or any of your teammates, but I applaud you all for taking a stand in what you believe in.”

OPPOSITION POSTS

“I won’t be supporting any of their fundraisers from now on. The coach needs to set the example.”

“Disrespect of this country and all who have fought to defend the flag is never ok, popular, or whatever people living in their bubbles want to make it.”

“These kids need to learn the hard way that choices have consequences, end of discussion.”

“How embarrassing!! These kids don’t have a clue what they’re doing! Disrespectful is an understatement!! They only wanted what we’re giving them! ATTENTION!! They don’t need to be kicked off the team. They need educated on what they’re taking for granted!”

- The SDN's Logan Kirkland, Robbie Faulk and Ryan Phillips contributed to this report.

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