Here's how Kentucky's fan base reacted to the men's basketball team kneeling during the national anthem
One fan wrote, "Send the players on a tour of Iran, Iraq & Afghanistan & let them fear for their lives during bombings." Another said it'd help if the players "visited some war zones in the summer."
The entire Kentucky men’s basketball team, including the coaching staff and head coach John Calipari, knelt, with arms linked, when the national anthem was played prior to Kentucky’s game at Florida on Jan. 9 – three days after the U.S. Capitol was stormed – and the decision to kneel sparked a firestorm within the fan base and the state, leaving Calipari and university administrators attempting to both express support for the school’s players and retain the support of the school’s angered fans.
The decision to kneel during the national anthem was made by the players, who approached Calipari about 90 minutes before the game and asked him to kneel with them. The protest was partly, but not entirely, in response to the storming of the Capitol.
“It’s a lot of stuff that goes on every day that we knelt for,” Kentucky’s Keion Brooks Jr. said, according to The New York Times. “The Capitol, that stuff, had a part to play in it, but there are some other things we don’t see that go on every day that are unacceptable, that we want to take a stand against.”
“Like, I saw the noose. That was just — was out of pocket,” Kentucky forward Isaiah Jackson said of the storming of the Capitol, according to The New York Times. “That’s just something that people shouldn’t do.”
Through public records requests, Out of Bounds obtained 269 pages of emails that were sent to or from Calipari, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto or Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart between Jan. 9 and Jan. 13, 2021. Almost all of the names of the emailers were redacted, as were 28 entire pages of emails. There were numerous other redactions.
Not a single email among those obtained expressed support for the players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem.
Almost every email from Kentucky fans expressed the belief that kneeling during the national anthem – a little over 72 hours after the Capitol was stormed – was disrespectful to some combination of the country, the U.S. flag and past and present members of the U.S. Armed Forces. However, while a host of Kentucky fans wrote that kneeling for the national anthem was disrespectful to military veterans, multiple fans wrote to university or athletic department leaders that the school’s men’s basketball players, as well as coaches and even athletic department administrators, should travel to active war zones overseas because that would help the players’ maturity.
“Send the players on a tour of Iran, Iraq & Afghanistan & let them fear for their lives during bombings & all athletics dept. go with them,” wrote one Kentucky fan. “Perhaps that would help you mature a bit.”
A different fan wrote that it might help if Calipari and his players “visited some war zones in summer etc etc. Perhaps they wouldn’t worry so much about their rights & they could become wiser & more mature.”
Other fans used false equivalences and strained metaphors when attempting to discredit the players’ First Amendment rights, and some fans compared kneeling during the national anthem to the storming of the Capitol, which directly resulted in five deaths, injuries suffered by roughly 140 police officers, plus the subsequent suicides of two police officers who were responded to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Their kneeling comminicates (sic) the same lack of maturity as those who disrespected our Country by entering the Capitol,” wrote one fan.
Another fan, who said he or she has been a Kentucky men’s basketball season ticket holder for the last five seasons, wrote, “Regardless of your politics, what happened on January 6th in our nations Capitol is disgusting, but allowing the players & coaches to use that as an excuse to disrespect our flag is unacceptable.”
A different fan wrote, “In my humble opinion the fact you allowed them to take a knee means that you support riots and looting and burning that has taken place by the racial injustice marches?”
A concerned parent claimed his or her young son is Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart’s biggest fan, and according to the parent, the son “was so disappointed” to see the players kneeling. “Kneeling in front of our flag does NOTHING for their cause. NOTHING,” the parent wrote. “Honestly, I’m not even positive as to why they even kneeled this time.”
When describing a hypothetical scenario involving the First Amendment, another fan wrote, “If you owned a restaurant and a waiter told a customer they're fat and need to order a salad would you fire them or brag on them. Same deal.”
The fan continued with a racist false equivalence about the First Amendment by asking how the university’s leadership would respond if the fan sat behind Kentucky’s bench at a basketball game and shouted “Blue lives matter,” along with yelling the number of police officers who have been killed by people of color in the last two years.
Many Kentucky fans didn’t learn that the team had knelt until much later
Multiple fans contrasted Kentucky’s team kneeling during the national anthem with Florida fans who were seen standing, with their hands over the hearts, in the background of the photographs that were taken of the Wildcats kneeling.
“Notice the Florida fans in the background standing with their hands over their hearts – I salute you,” wrote one Kentucky fan, who noted he or she is a native Kentuckian with a degree from the university and who worked as a contractor for an Air Force base for 34 years. “I love UK basketball but this is a pathetic disregard for the respect deserved to those who have sacrifice (sic) so much for the opportunity they have been given.”
Another fan made a point to mention “the Florida fans behind them are all standing with respect and their hands over their hearts.”
Florida’s Scottie Lewis also knelt during the national anthem.
The reason that those Kentucky fans, and others, pointed to pictures and news coverage of Kentucky’s team kneeling during the national anthem, rather than describing their firsthand accounts of their experience watching the team kneel, is because they didn’t see it happen live.
“We first learned of the issue while watching the game with 2:18 left to play in the second half,” one fan wrote to Barnhart. “Our stomachs got sick. We changed the channel.”
A lifelong Kentucky fan, who said he or she hasn’t watched any Kentucky athletic events this school year because the men’s basketball team made a video in support of Black Lives Matter and because the football team marched in support of Black Lives Matter, wrote of the men’s basketball team kneeling at Florida, “I only heard about it and later saw photos of it on social media.”
Another Kentucky alum added, “Although they did not show it on TV, I saw a news headline our team kneeled during the National Anthem Saturday.” The fan continued, “In a week that saw our Capitol stormed, we now received a ‘kidney punch’ by Calipari to our country,” as if the team’s peaceful protest was an additional attack on the country and not spawned, at least in part, in response to the Capitol being stormed.
“I watch sports to get away from politics, for entertainment, not to have political statements put in front of me,” wrote one fan. “That no longer is the case. I cannot watch a sporting event without having some political message displayed (and it's always one sided). I wonder what UK would have done if a player wore a Trump shirt during warmups, or said he was Pro Trump or supported the rights of the protesters in DC last week? Just a question.”
There were some Kentucky fans who didn’t know the team had knelt during the national anthem until after the game was over and they said learning of the players and coaches kneeling affected how they viewed the 18-point road win that allowed Kentucky to start conference play with a 3-0 record.
“It is 8:00pm on Saturday night, January 9th and the UK Wildcats have just beaten the Florida Gators to be 3-0 in the SEC after an historically (sic) abysmal start to the season,” wrote one fan. “[Redacted] were elated to see the team working together and playing with an energy we have not yet seen. However, rather than relishing the win, I noted the article on KSR [Kentucky Sports Radio] about our team kneeling during the National Anthem at another team’s arena! Shocked! Dismayed!
“Angry! Appalled! Disgusted! Offended!”
One Kentucky fan, who mentioned that he is an Eastern Kentucky University alum who lives in Georgia, wrote, “Yesterday’s game was encouraging until I read that this incident occurred.”
In an email written the afternoon on the day after the game, another fan wrote, “I did not know this happened until someone told me last night.”
Not only did the aggrieved Kentucky fans not witness the peaceful protest live on TV, but some didn’t learn about it until hours after the game.
Here’s how the University of Kentucky responded to concerned fans
University of Kentucky Chief Communications Officer Jay Blanton responded to fans from University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto’s email account with the exact same message to every fan.
Some fans even took notice of the word-for-word similarities.
“Thank you for your pre-planned response,” wrote one fan. “Since my son received the exact same reply, I highly doubt my email was read or considered at all.”
One emailer responded, “Several friends received the same message.”
Another fan called it a “form letter.”
Here was Blanton’s blanket response on behalf of Capilouto:
One fan who received Blanton’s response called it “predictable, and may I say, cliche.” Another fan wrote, “Although the response sounds reasonable the way it’s written it really doesn’t address the seriousness of the issue.”
A different fan responded to Blanton, “Finally, your response is clearly, simply a form response, as you do not address me directly or make reference to any specifics in my original email. Just a helpful hint: Communications 101 dictates that one try to make the addressee ‘heard’ and/or understood. Your response does neither.”
Administrative Assistant Paige Noland forwarded one fan’s email to Vice President for Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement D. Michael Richey. The Sunday afternoon after Kentucky’s game at Florida, the fan had written an email that included, “I will give you the opportunity to respond, but even then, I may want back the dollars that I have personally contributed to causes I am more aligned.”
After the fan had received Blanton’s standard response, the fan responded, “So, sounds as if the University fully supports this disrespectful act.” The fan asked to be contacted immediately on Monday so that he could be removed from a group (whose name was redacted but is presumably an alumni association or booster organization), in addition to asking to receive a refund from past donations and being removed from all mailing lists associated with the university, including future requests for financial support.
Richey responded to Noland: “I suggest UKPR or University Relations make these follow-up calls since this issue is much broader than just philanthropy. What do you think?” Noland then looped in Blanton, who responded, “That's fine, if someone can get me a list and numbers,” and Noland provided the names of the fans who needed to be contacted immediately.
One fan wrote to Barnhart that he or she had emailed Richey and asked him to remove the fan’s entire family from all contact lists. “If our student athletes cannot stand for our national anthem, we will cease supporting,” the fan wrote.
Numerous Kentucky fans wrote that their financial support of the university, if not also their fandom, ended Jan. 9.
Shortly after 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 9, one lifelong Kentucky fan emailed Calipari, Barnhart and Capilouto, “I have always been an (sic) University of Ky Basketball fan and loved watching all the games. However, this will end as what I observed today 1/9/21 was appalling and disrespectful to this great country of ours. To have the coach kneel with all the UK players during this anthem after the University of Ky and this country has been so good to coach Cal is really the last straw for me.”
“Sad to say for me,” wrote another fan, “but good-bye UK.”
“You disrespect the flag then you spit on each and everyone (sic) of them,” one fan wrote to Barnhart and Capilouto, regarding military veterans. “In my opinion, that is exactly what they did.”
Another fan ended an email with, “Just to be clear, I am so confident that I am finished with UK sports, I would not care if you hired Billy Gillespie (sic) back as the head coach,” in a reference to the former Kentucky head coach who was fired in 2009 after two seasons at the school, after ending Kentucky’s 17-year NCAA tournament streak.
At least one family warranted a potential response other than the standard response from the university. Noland emailed Blanton, “I’m not familiar with which [redacted]s are affiliated with [redacted] House, so I’m sending this one along in case it requires a different response.” The first redaction is presumably a family’s last name and the second redaction is likely some form of governing body. In a subsequent email, Richey confirmed that one emailer in the thread is the son of someone else whose name was redacted.
While many fans described the peaceful protest as “political,” the university’s response to fans – or the lack thereof, given the copied-and-pasted responses – may have been political, by definition, if a fan who may have a family tie to an elected official potentially warranted a more personal, detailed response.
The financial ramifications of, and explanations behind, kneeling
As I wrote in a newsletter last month, college athletics is currently littered with hot-button issues related to fundraising, and the matter of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team kneeling during the national anthem before its game against Florida marked the collision course of poor on-court performance and social justice activism.
There’s a saying in sports that you can’t be both bad and boring, with the latter referring to a team’s style of play – as in it’s arguably better to lose in football 55-48 rather than 17-13, because at least then your fans get to see a lot of scoring. An updated version of that sentiment might be that it’s a bad sign for a school, a program and its head coach when the team isn’t winning enough for the fans’ liking at the same time when a large portion of the school’s fan base doesn’t support the voices or actions of the school’s athletes.
Just ask former Texas coach Tom Herman.
On-court performance and protests shouldn’t be grouped together, at least certainly not aimlessly, and you can argue the relative merits of criticism in each category.
Kentucky losing six games in a row to fall to 1-6, including double-digit losses to Richmond, Georgia Tech and North Carolina?
More than fair for Kentucky fans to be critical of the program!
Kentucky players asking their head coach to join them in kneeling in protest during the national anthem, just days after the U.S. Capitol was stormed for the first time since 1814?
That probably shouldn’t fall under the same category as one-possession losses to Kansas, Notre Dame and Louisville!
But some fans grouped together those two categories.
“You lose 6 games in a row and you kneel during what our country stands for,” wrote one fan. “I am in tears because of this.” The fan, who said he or she is paying part of the fan’s daughter’s tuition at Kentucky, later added, “It almost makes me want to pull her out of UK and she can attend another college.”
One Kentucky alum, who said he or she was the senator for his or her college while attending the university and who previously served as president of the Student Social Work Association, wrote to Capilouto, “My basement looks like a UK sports museum … It is time for a remodel of my basement! I have asked to be removed from the [redacted] association. I will not watch another UK sporting event, nor will I give another dollar to the university.”
A third-generation Kentucky fan wrote, “With a heavy heart, my blue blood is now crimson (Alabama) and blue and orange (Auburn).”
While many Kentucky fans agreed that the team’s decision to kneel for the national anthem was going to result in fans discontinuing their financial support of the program or the university, Kentucky fans didn’t agree on the perceived financial and professional status of the team’s players. Fans didn’t only express that they were done supporting the university or the athletic department, but their varying perceptions of the athletes’ current and future financial statuses also played a role in how fans reacted to the team’s decision to kneel.
In the eyes of fans, are many of Kentucky’s players future multimillionaires who are simply at the men’s basketball weigh station in Lexington, as part of their journey toward being a future NBA draft pick and potential All-Star? Are the players currently considered employees by fans because they’re on scholarship? Are they just students who also play high-level basketball and therefore they’re under the mercy and discretion of the university and its stakeholders?
There was no consensus among Kentucky fans.
Those who view Kentucky players as amateur athletes believe the athletes’ words and actions should reflect those of the university or its fans, in an almost deferential, subservient sense.
“These players play for the school, they are on the schools payroll because they are getting scholarships so yes they are on UK payroll,” wrote one fan who said he or she has been watching Kentucky basketball for 55 years and hasn’t missed many SEC or NCAA tournaments, despite living in another state.
“They are not paid athletes, but student athletes receiving scholarship money for an education,” wrote one fan, who said he is a University of Kentucky alum who used to work as a math tutor for the athletic department.
Those who view Kentucky players as future millionaires see them almost as college basketball mercenaries, who are incapable of independent thought or being affected by the world around them.
“I think it is time for UK to realize the only reason these ‘student’ basketball players are here is as a stepping stone for the money in the NBA and have absolutely no interest in the political welfare of our country,” wrote the fan who called out the university for sending the same email response to him and his son. “Your one and done allowance is evident that the care for the student is non-existent. I also have rights since my taxes fund this institution, which is obviously not neutral.”
The fan then wrote that he was anxiously waiting for the university’s second round of carbon-copy responses.
“This life long Kentuckian and former fan of UK is done with privileged coaches and athletes disrespecting our country and telling everyday law abiding Americans that we are what's wrong with this world,” wrote the Kentucky fan who stopped watching the school’s sporting events because some of its athletes supported the Black Lives Matter movement last fall.
Many emailers grouped together their disapproval of Kentucky’s decision to kneel during the national anthem with the fans’ dislike for organizations such as Black Lives Matter, the NFL, NBA or Antifa. Setting aside Antifa, which was used as an attempt to counterpunch the storming of the Capitol that Kentucky’s players were protesting, the common thread among the other organizations listed is that they’re often made up of Black athletes and supporters who promote social justice, and many Kentucky basketball fans wrote that they’ve stopped watching the NFL or NBA, or that college sports is going to lose money:
One fan who said he or she is a paramedic wrote, “They’re NOT Colin Kaepernick OR Overpaid NBA, NFL or other professional Players!!”
Another fan wrote, “Sports games is NO Place for POLITICAL ACTIVISM! COLLEGE OR PROFESSIONAL!! We’ve had ENOUGH of THE POLITICAL GARBAGE!! It’s gotten SO OLD!! Non stop criticizing & attacking of President Trump in particular and Republicans in general!! BLM & ANTIFA rioting & destroying private property!! NOW THE GARBAGE HAS INFILTRATED COLLEGE SPORTS!!”
“Pro Sports are losing money and your College game is going to lose money now,” wrote a different fan.
Another fan wrote, “You, Coach John Caloipari (sic), the President and both football and basketball teams owe me and my family an apology. Otherwise, We are done with all things with the University of Kentucky…and you have joined the NFL, NBA and UK Football team in sports we used to watch. What were you thinking?”
“I used to be a big NFL fan and watched pro football all the time. Three years ago when they started kneeling during the national anthem I stopped watching and have never watched an NFL football again nor will I,” wrote a Kentucky fan who described himself or herself as “a staunch supporter of President Trump and am a Republican.” “I do not watch the NBA, NFL nor movies or shows out of Hollywood to hear their political protests. The same goes for my University of Kentucky.”
One fan tried to connect the future earning potential of Kentucky’s men’s basketball players to explain how that means that they can’t be affected by the current racial and political climate in the country.
The fan who compared kneeling during the national anthem to spitting on American servicemen and servicewomen wrote, “Some of these players, soon to make millions *(if they are lucky), and the salary for Coach Cal alone would exceed most revenues for many of our Kentucky counties. What is disgusting to me is how they could show such disrespect of even somehow find themselves as ‘afflicted.’ I’ve read the arguments today that perhaps it was them kneeling for the recent defamation of the capitol.
“Pardon me saying, but give me a break. It was all orchestrated for attention, or jockeying for more tv and talk show time.”
A man named Bill Phillips wrote to Capilouto that his “ultimate employer” is not the University of Kentucky, but rather the people who live in the state and pay taxes.
“The fact remains they were in uniform, at a game representing my state and school, paid for with my tax dollars to express their hatred of our country,” wrote another fan, who later continued, “You refer to them as ‘young students’ as if they are naive idiots. They are full grown men with the right to vote. Your characterization is purposefully misleading. They’re not in elementary school. Why didn’t the coward Capilouto respond? Maybe he’s too busy burning the flag. What a predictable response.”
The potentially dangerous part for Kentucky’s bottom line is that it wasn’t enough for some fans to simply threaten to withdraw their contributions to the university and athletic department. Some fans said they were going to encourage as many other fans as possible to also end their contributions.
“I will actively work to have other alumni stop their financial support and encourage them to do the same with their friends,” wrote one fan who said he or she is a veteran of the first Gulf War and commanded a missile unit in West Germany during the Cold War. “The lack of my support may not make any difference, but hopefully I can make an impact by the number of supporters I can affect.”
Another fan wrote, “You all & the rest of the athletic department can be guaranteed that I will not be donating another penny until this is apologized for and I will also be urging the other 10 friends & family members of mine that donate & have season tickets to do the same. I hope the entire BBN will consider doing the same.”
It remains to be seen how many fans and boosters cut ties with the university over the men’s basketball team’s decision to kneel, or how influential those boosters truly are, but one woman left university leaders with a bit of an ominous financial prediction: “So when UK basketball is not generating it's (sic) usual money and you can't figure out why, just remember there are plenty of people who had family members who fought, bled and died so that we may live in a free nation.”
Some fans said the quiet part out loud, that they believe sports and the athletes who play them are only there for fans’ entertainment.
“Sports are for entertainment, not for political activities,” wrote one Kentucky fan to Calipari, after the fan noted all of his relatives who have served in the military.
“They are for my entertainment,” wrote the self-described “staunch supporter” of Trump, “not where I go for political guidance.”
“There is no room in college athletics for this,” wrote one fan, who said he is “absolutely furious over this as are all my college fraternity brothers.”
Anger at John Calipari vs. the administration vs. the players
For those college basketball fans who are Very Online, there’s a Twitter bit that former Ohio State walk-on and current FOX Sports commentator Mark Titus has about Calipari calling his players “kids.” It’s a matter of semantics that’s bigger than one sport or one coach; there’s a reason the phrase “college kids” rolls off the tongue even though college students are legal adults.
But the age and life experience of Kentucky’s players played a role in how the decision to kneel was interpreted and discussed.
Three days after the team knelt at Florida, Calipari said, “Like I said to them, they're 18 years old, they're learning. It was not meant...These kids, they’re good kids. They have good hearts. Again, this political time, probably not a real good time to do it,” according to CatsPause.com.
Now, seeing the flurry of private pushback that the program, athletic department and university received from fans – in addition to the sheriff and jailer in Laurel County, Kentucky, burning Kentucky t-shirts, and the Knox County Fiscal Court adopting a resolution to ask Gov. Andy Beshear to reallocate tax funds given to the university, as the Courier-Journal reported – there’s now additional context that could help explain why Calipari may have stressed the age of his players, called them “kids,” and said it “probably [was] not a real good time to do it.”
As a coach whose method to roster construction is by annually bringing to Lexington one of the two or three most talented recruiting classes in the country, Calipari needs to support his players, or at least more often than give the appearance of supporting his players. When some media coverage of Calipari’s comments after the Florida game was critical of the Kentucky head coach, he responded on Twitter in all-caps: “I STAND WITH, FOR AND BY MY PLAYERS. ALWAYS HAVE AND ALWAYS WILL!”
But he and university administrators are also tasked with appeasing their fan base in a state in which former President Donald Trump received more votes than President Joe Biden in the 2020 general election than in 118 of Kentucky’s 120 counties – all but Jefferson County (Louisville) and Fayette County (Lexington) – and in his second impeachment trial, Trump was recently acquitted on the impeachment charge of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol, which is part of what spurred Kentucky’s team to kneel in Gainesville, Florida.
Kentucky is also 87.5 percent white, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate from July 1, 2019, with 84.1 percent of the state’s population being only white, and not Hispanic or Latino. CBS News polling published in July 2020 showed that 88 percent of Black Americans think it’s acceptable to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination, compared to 48 percent of white Americans. The same polling found that 85 percent of white Democrats think it’s acceptable, compared to just 18 percent of white Republicans. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats think kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial discrimination is acceptable, compared to just 23 percent of the Republicans polled.
Similar to how there wasn’t a consensus in how emailers view Kentucky’s players in terms of their current or future financial status, there was a wide range of opinions from fans as to who originally had the idea of the peaceful protest. Some fans saw the players as 18 to 22-year-olds who are still on their way to becoming independent adults, and other fans saw the players as the group that’s actually in charge of the program.
“The coaches are willing pawns and the kids are running the show,” wrote one Kentucky fan, who then also cited research that adult brains aren’t fully developed until someone is in their twenties.
Some fans wanted to get to the bottom of whose idea it was to kneel. “As a loyal fan, I would like to know whose idea this was,” wrote one fan, who later added, “[The players] are young and do have much to learn. It’s not the same for their coach though.”
Calipari arguably received more heat than anyone in the emails. “[Calipari] is an overpaid and under educated (sic) employee,” wrote one Kentucky grad.
Five different fans referenced Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams in emails, three of whom cited the same video from when Williams shared his perspective on the American flag when he was the coach at Virginia Tech.
“Coach Cal should not be involved in politics,” wrote one fan, who accused Calipari of supporting a Communist or Socialist agenda.
One email, which had a subject line of “National anthem,” featured just five words in the body: “Cal has got to go.” That emailer was certainly not alone.
Another emailer called whoever tweeted the picture of Kentucky’s team kneeling during the anthem “the piece of shit…[who] thought it would be cute to brag about their unity of hatred for our country.” Many fans used this phrasing, interpreting the kneeling during the anthem as “hatred” for the country.
“If the season has to be cancelled, SO BE IT,” wrote another. “It’s already cancelled for me.”
One fan, who called for Capilouto to either resign or fire Calipari, tried to single out Keion Brooks Jr. for the idea of kneeling during the national anthem. “I find it interesting that the kneeling took place the first game that [redacted] returned,” the fan wrote. “He has demanded that [Adolph] Rupp’s name be removed from Rupp Arena. He is a [redacted] and he has no idea of what Coach Rupp did for our University.”
Another fan singled out senior forward Olivier Sarr, whose hometown is Bordeaux, France, with a series of xenophobic emails.
“A French import doing it is an outrage,” one fan wrote. The same emailer also sent an email that had a link to a grave in a military cemetery in France, where the emailer’s uncle is buried. The emailer said Sarr – calling him “Frenchy” – can visit the grave the next time he wants to kneel. The emailer also questioned why Sarr, whose name he repeatedly misspelled, is going to school and playing basketball in the U.S., “if things are so bad here.”
The emailer closed a previous email with “Jesus is Lord.”
“I just don’t think the players realize the state they are playing ball in,” wrote the fan who said he was in tears because Kentucky lost six games in a row and then knelt during the national anthem. Another fan, who said he or she, plus friends, had stopped watching the NFL “over their actions,” wrote, “You see the Kentucky basketball team belongs to the people of Kentucky. The coach is just a caretaker of the program at that time. The program does not belong to the coach or players.”
A now-former Kentucky fan, who called for Calipari to be removed as head coach and for all of the players’ scholarships to be revoked, wrote, “Let them go to another country to play basketball...then they can disrespect all they want. Look what this country has done for them. They’re selfish, entitled children who have no respect for our country. I will be rooting for any team playing against them.”
One fan suggested the university’s leadership meet with Calipari and tell him the team cannot kneel again during the national anthem. If Calipari refused this proclamation, the fan said, then he should be terminated. If the players refuse, then the fan said they should all be dismissed “and start over.”
“Yes we'll lose every game at first but making a stand for our country is what I believe Kentuckians want,” the fan wrote. “Actually you will go down in history for this. Good history. I would rather lose with honor than win in shame.”
“Even if we go undefeated the rest of the season and win the championship, I will be an extremely disappointed follower,” wrote the Kentucky fan who’s an Eastern Kentucky University alum who lives in Georgia. “My main question is who is in charge of the men’s basketball program? While I think the answer should be Coach Calipari along with input from Mitch and yourself, I think reality indicates that it is the 18-22 year old players who actually run the program. Given the fact that up to 50% of this years team will probably only attend UK for 2 semesters, this alone is an embarrassment. According to reports, Calipari was told that the players wanted to do this and not only did he approve but joined them in this abomination.
“I am so disgusted with this action, so mad and embarrassed that I can barely control my emotions as I write this email.”
The role that Brad Calipari played
Several Kentucky fans were upset by comments made on Twitter by Brad Calipari, the son of John Calipari who previously played at Kentucky before transferring to Detroit.
“Reading some of the comments on this is disgusting,” the younger Calipari wrote in a quote tweet of the official Kentucky men’s basketball team’s tweet of the team kneeling. “All of u ‘no more kentucky basketball for me’ can go right on ahead we don’t need your support.”
Kentucky Basketball @KentuckyMBBTogether as one https://t.co/4cWrZw8z74
Even though he no longer attends or plays for Kentucky, some Kentucky fans took Brad Calipari’s comments as those of the university and were offended.
“Brad tweeted UK didn’t need support from fans,” wrote one fan. “That’s what they’ll get. And no financial support for UK either. Please don’t send mail asking for monetary donations for the Wildcat Society,.”
“What a disgrace !!!!!” wrote another fan who said he or she has been a Kentucky basketball fan for more than 70 years. “So Brad tweets that they don’t need the support of the fans. If so then quit sending me requests for money … Brad Calipari, son of Coach Calipari, weighed in on Twitter, and said we don't owe you anything, well Brad, I believe that when you commit to a scholarship, at Kentucky, or any School, you owe your loyalty too the fans and the school. I would agree that Black Lives Matter, but, whether Black, White, Brown, Yellow. All those other Lives matter as well. This Team has, with the approval of John Calipari chosen to politicize the Kentucky Basketball program and its history.”
Among the nearly 300 pages of emails obtained, there wasn’t a single email that voiced support for the players and coaches who knelt during the national anthem. However, one email, appeared to at least be receptive to the idea of college students finding their voices.
It was a response from someone who had been CC’d on an original email in which the original sender said, “I love UK, but I love the USA more!”
The responder, who was previously a Boy Scouts of American Council President and a veteran of one of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, wrote, “The issue we encounter here is the flexibility and boundary stretching that must go in an academic environment as young people find themselves. This examination and challenge of their beliefs about everything from politics to sexuality to religion to every social more and norm is the reality of ‘global ready’ education. I now look back in disbelief at my own personal journey at UK, protesting on picket lines in 1969 at Pres Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia and being a part of the cheering mob as the ROTC building was burned in 1970. And, unlike Pres Clinton, I did inhale. Inherent in this current display by our young athletes is the intense belief that ‘no one is listening’ to their concerns and the issues as they understand them viewed through their lens of urban America.”
In the emailer’s conclusion, as he tried to establish common ground, he wrote, “Like you, I love being a ‘Blue Blood!’”
This is the story of a blue blood that has performed like anything but one this season, while simultaneously angering a significant portion of its fan base in an overwhelmingly white, currently red-leaning state.
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.