The Vanderbilt women's basketball team just started the 2020-21 season and drew attention due to a major announcement. The players and coaches have revealed they are remaining in the locker room during the national anthem. They are doing so to "mourn and commemorate" the racial injustices in the U.S.
The players shared the decision with a statement across their social media platforms. They explained that they are "ambassadors" of the university. Vanderbilt spokesman Eric Dolan then confirmed that it was a team decision. He also said that head coach Stephanie White would remain in the locker room with her players.
"We are not student-athletes, and this is more than playing a game," the statement said. "Every time we put on a black-and-gold jersey, we feel the responsibility as ambassadors of our University, role models to young girls, and members of our community. We want to set the example, and we have made a commitment to be the change we want to see in the world.
"For the national anthem this year, we have chosen to stay in our locker room as a team to mourn and commemorate the racial injustices that have been taking place in the United States. Thank you for your continued support. Anchor Down, The Student-Athletes of Vanderbilt Women’s Basketball."
According to the Tennessean, the Vanderbilt women's basketball team previously sparked criticism in 2017 with a similar decision. Some of the players knelt during the national anthem before a preseason game. Roughly half of the team took a knee, and then a team spokesperson confirmed that the demonstration occurred during the national anthem.
The fans reacted to the photos of the players kneeling by criticizing the decision on social media. Some said that the Commodores were "alienating" the fanbase and that the group was already very small. Some people cited attendance numbers under 3,000 at each game.0comments
"Vanderbilt values students’ freedom of expression and inquiry and promotes civil discourse," the university said in a statement in 2017. "As an academic institution, freedom of speech and peaceful protest are foundational to our educational mission with our students." Years later, the number of players kneeling has increased, but some of the criticism remains. However, there are more people showing support in 2020.
While the Commodores move through the season, they will do so without a key contributor. Demi Washington announced that she would miss the entire season due to myocarditis following a positive COVID-19 case. This ailment is an inflammation of the heart muscle, usually caused by a viral infection. There are multiple symptoms, including chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and arrhythmias.