Bennett from the Bleachers: Stateswomen basketball reminds us that sports are about more than sports

Bennett Durando
Sports Columnist

“Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wa-ave … o’er the land of the free, and the home of the – STATESMEN!”

So ends the national anthem at Roberts Gym before basketball games, with the traditional spirited cry from the Roberts Rowdies student section topping it off.

This year, though, not everyone on the court during the pregame has been eager to show off pride at this notion. Players on the Webster women’s basketball team have kneeled during playings of the national anthem this season, taking a cue from the silent protest some professional athletes have participated in over the last several months.

While some women's basketball players stand for the national anthem, others kneel as a protest against racial inequality in the United States. Photo by Bennett Durando
While some women’s basketball players stand for the national anthem, others kneel as a protest against racial inequality in the United States. Photo by Bennett Durando

Prior to the start of the season, the Stateswomen discussed the possibility of kneeling as a team as a demonstration against the national establishment, particularly in regard to racial equality. At the season-opener, game attendants were surprised to see nine of 12 players take a knee as the Star-Spangled Banner’s first note rang out.

Junior Danielle Daniels, one of the leaders in this statement, said after the first game, “We got a few rude tweets about it, and it went bigger than expected. Our coaches got involved on why we kneeled to make sure it wouldn’t separate us as a team, and we would respect others’ opinions.”

“There was some concern on the reason behind the protest due to negative backlash, so we talked about different reasons,” head coach Patti Perkins said. “As a white and black coaching staff with men and women, we wanted to make sure they understood why they were protesting. It was really an open conversation.”

After the team meeting, only five players would continue kneeling beyond the first game: Daniels, seniors Olivia Oude Alink and Moe Wade Fluker, and juniors Jasmine Ellis and Ellen Wermuth. There was never any tension between those who kneeled and those who stood, only understanding.

“(Whether players kneeled or stood is) not about color, being white or black, because not all of the people who kneeled were black,” Daniels said. “We have experienced different things as individuals and have different perspectives. The few others who didn’t originally kneel didn’t because of family members who served. They look at the national anthem as showing respect to veterans.”

Regardless of a player’s approach to the situation, Daniels said, “My team has been supportive of one another no matter who stands for what.”

While some women’s basketball players stand for the national anthem, others kneel as a protest against racial inequality in the United States. Photo by Andy Kimball

Support has been the binding word through this season for the Stateswomen. While the 8-5 team has won the attention of local basketball followers with its playing and has a chance to repeat as District champions after a team-best run to the State quarterfinals last year, the Stateswomen have also won attention off the court for their message, serving as a much-needed reminder to us that the importance of sports in our culture can be in its use as a platform for invoking change, for making a statement that reaches further than sports to a bigger picture.

“I personally feel the system isn’t made for anyone of color … the ‘land of the free,’ well if everyone had equal rights and freedom, you wouldn’t have these unjustified killings, racial profiling and tragic situations,” Daniels said. While she acknowledges the flag means different things to everyone, she said she will not “stand for something that doesn’t stand for me.”

“I’m kneeling because the way the world is set up. It’s not just that black lives matter; every life matters, people need to understand that,” Oude Alink said. “Taking a knee is a way of showing people that we care about what happens in the world.”

Now, for the record, I completely agree with the statement these players are making. The problems they are protesting need to be talked about in order to be fixed, and I will always be an advocate of the First Amendment rights of speech and petition. Protesting is what our founding fathers would’ve wanted the Stateswomen to do.

Whether or not you agree with this, whether or not you stand by the continued actions and motivations of these five players, this Webster team needs to be appreciated for what it’s doing: utilizing its sport to get across a message that will force our community to have conversations about what changes need to be made to our society. The Stateswomen have done this with dignity, respect, purpose and courage in the face of harsh and uncalled for backlash.

Whatever your personal opinion may be on this matter, treat this Webster team with equal dignity and respect. They just hope that someday they can be proud again to stand and yell, “Home of the Statesmen.”

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