An NAIA school in Southwest Missouri has taken its support of the national anthem at sporting events to the next level.
Not only will athletes and coaches at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo., stand at attention for the Star Spangled Banner, the opponent will as well.
Or the Bobcats won’t play.
The school calls it, “No pledge, No Play,” and school president Jerry C. Davis said he has no problem taking his ball and going home. The school has revised its contracts in competitions in all sports to reflect the pledge.
“We want to make it clear that we are not going to participate in a game where we think disrespect for the national anthem or the flag is being displayed,” Davis told The Star. “I don’t think it’s a partisan issue. It’s an American issue, how we feel about our country.”
The pledge is a response to protests that started in 2016, with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. The anthem protests have picked up momentum this season in several forms.
In the NFL, some teams have taken a knee or linked arms together; others have remained in the locker room during the anthem.
A CNN poll released Friday underscored how sharply divided Americans are on the issue. Overall, 49 percent of U.S. citizens responding to the poll said players are wrong to protest during the anthem, while 43 percent said it’s the right thing to do. Those viewpoints are closely aligned by race and political affiliation.
Among whites, 59 percent say the players are wrong, while 82 percent of blacks say the protest is the right thing to do. Republicans are 87 percent against the protest, 72 percent of Democrats support it.
Davis doesn’t care about polls.
“We think what we’re doing is right,” Davis said. “We’re living in a culture that doesn’t know right from wrong anymore, and I don’t need to go out and take a poll either.”
The College of Ozarks, a private, Christian liberal arts college with an enrollment of about 1,500, doesn’t have a football team. The mission statement on the school’s website lists as a “patriotic goal”: “To encourage an understanding of American heritage, civic responsibilities, love of country and willingness to defend it.”
According to the school’s website, no tuition is charged at College of the Ozarks. It was named the No. 1 best value and innovative school in the Midwest in the U.S. News and World Report 2018 rankings.
The school plays host to the NAIA Division II men’s national basketball championship in March.
Davis said there have been no anthem-protest issues with school teams, and he wants to keep it that way.
“I’m not saying everything is perfect,” Davis said. “But the United States is the greatest country and much better than what’s in second place.
“We wanted to be clear about our expectations. We’re trying to avoid trouble, not look for it. But if people don’t want to sign our agreement, I’d rather forfeit a game than forfeit our honor.”