Ole Miss basketball team kneeling down in protest of the Confederate rally. (276289)
Credit: Contributed

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise … or abridging the freedom of speech … or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”

This past Saturday, Feb. 23, at the University of Mississippi, located in Oxford, Miss., two pro-Confederacy groups, Confederate 901 and the Hiwaymen, applied the aforementioned rights granted them by staging a march on the grounds of the sprawling campus. So did eight University of Mississippi basketball players, rejecting long-held symbols of slavery and racism.

During the playing of the Star Spangled Banner before facing the University of Georgia, KJ Buffen, D.C. Davis, Brian Halums, Luis Rodriguez, Devontae Shuler, Bruce Stevens, Franco Miller Jr. and Breein Tyree knelt in opposition to the rally, following examples of their modern day brethren as well as channeling athletes from decades past who endured Jim Crow laws and staunchly fought against overt bigotry.

The junior point guard Tyree, a native of Somerset, N. J., a high school teammate of NBA All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns at St. Joseph’s in Metuchen and Mississippi’s leading scorer, expounded via Twitter that the players’ actions were not a repudiation of the U.S. flag or military as some may have attempted to spin the moment.

“To the people that fight for this country, my teammates and I meant no disrespect to everything that you do for us, but we had to take a stand to the negative things that went on today on our campus.”

The iconic images of James Meredith becoming the first Black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi on October 1, 1962, with armed National Guardsman, enraged riotous segregationists. The image of Meredith hanging in effigy still permeates the consciouness of this nation.

The visceral fibers of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s brutal lynching in Money, Miss. in August 1955 by a hateful mob of white men, and the abduction and murders of young, courageous civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner in Neshoba County, Miss. in June 1964 by the hands of local police and the Ku Klux Klan—proven to be one and the same—inextricably connect past and present eras of racism.

Perhaps the groups that descended on the University of Mississippi felt welcomed by the Confederate monument that stands at the center of campus, a contentious representation that should have been removed years ago. However, powerful forces, including politicians, wealthy donors and school administrators, have ensured it remains firmly rooted.

Nevertheless, University of Mississippi athletics director Ross Bjork encapsulated the players’ and ostensibly the school community’s collective sentiments regarding the gathering of neo-Confederates.

“They see what’s happening on our campus and these people that come here and spill hate and bigotry and racism,” Bjork was quoted stating to The Daily Mississipian. “We don’t want them on our campus.”

The University of Mississippi men’s head basketball coach Kermit Davis reconciled the day’s context. “This was all about the hate groups that came to our community to try to spread racism and bigotry,” he said.

“It’s created a lot of tension for our campus. Our players made an emotional decision to show these people they’re not welcome on our campus, and we respect our players’ freedom and ability to choose that.”

Bjork, Davis and head football coach Matt Luke, as well as others under the umbrella of the University of Mississippi athletic department which generates millions of dollars for the college, would demonstrably show support for their student-athletes by calling for the Confederate monument to heretofore no longer be displayed on campus.