The Kansas volleyball team united to make a statement about social injustice on Saturday afternoon, kneeling together before the national anthem in its home match against Baylor.
The players locked elbows and arms while the public-address announcer asked fans to take a moment to reflect on how they could help create “a more just, respectful and inclusive nation.” After the gesture, KU’s players rose to stand for the national anthem.
Middle blocker Kayla Cheadle said the team started having discussions about doing something following recent news reports about the death of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who was killed by Tulsa police officers on Sept. 16.
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“We decided that we wouldn’t do the anthem, because we want to have respect for what’s happening and respect for our country,” Cheadle said. “So we felt like having it before the anthem was more respectful and still sent a positive message.”
The volleyball team is the first KU program to kneel as a form of bringing social awareness.
KU coach Ray Bechard described his team as “diverse as any volleyball team in the country.”
“We come from all different backgrounds, but we still know what it’s like to treat each other the right way, be compassionate for each other, be tolerant of views,” Bechard said. “The team thought, ‘What a great message to send.’ ”
Bechard reiterated his players didn’t want to disrespect the anthem with their actions.
“They all said, ‘Hey, we love our country. We love our flag,’” Bechard said. “‘But is there some way we can challenge everybody in the gym today maybe just to be a little better person when it comes to the decisions we make about other people and how we treat each other?’”
The Jayhawks will be increasing their work in the community as well. Bechard said each player would have an individual plan for volunteering, whether that was assisting with the Boys and Girls Club or preparing meals for the homeless.
“Not only did we want awareness in our gym,” Bechard said, “but we want some action as the season goes on.”
Cheadle says the team is still considering kneeling before its other matches while committing to the extra charity outings.
“That could be a very positive influence, and bring a lot of positive energy through Lawrence, as well,” Cheadle said.