Protest over: Ole Miss players stand for anthem

OXFORD, Miss. -- All 15 players on the Ole Miss basketball team stood during the playing of the national anthem before Wednesday night's tipoff with No. 7 Tennessee.

Cheers erupted from fans inside The Pavilion and a few players clapped after the finishing of the anthem and before player introductions began.

On Saturday, eight Ole Miss players knelt during the anthem in response to a pro-Confederacy rally near the arena before the Rebels' 72-71 win over Georgia. Various Ole Miss student groups held counterprotests to the Confederate rallies on campus Thursday and Friday.

Speaking after Wednesday night's 73-71 loss to the Vols, Rebels senior forward Bruce Stevens said Saturday's gesture was a one-time thing.

"It was just because of the people on campus," Stevens said. "They were doing the protesting while we were playing. So we kneeled. I was with Devontae Shuler. We really aren't worried about it anymore. We are just worried about now and focusing on basketball."

Senior guard Terence Davis agreed, saying, "It won't happen again." But he added, "It brought awareness to the campus and what was going on that day. I think it did that and that's what it was for."

Shuler was the first player to kneel on Saturday, and he later told the New York Times he did it because pro-Confederate groups marched from the Confederate monument on the town's square to another Confederate monument at the Circle located near the Grove -- about 200 yards from Ole Miss' basketball arena.

"I felt like I needed to stand up for my rights for righteousness sake," Shuler told the Times. "My emotions were just for the students. I didn't want anything to happen with us playing that game while the protest was going on. I felt like I couldn't pass that moment by without making a difference."

Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis and athletic director Ross Bjork immediately backed the players Saturday for their pregame actions.

"This was all about the hate groups that came to our community to try to spread racism and bigotry," Davis said Saturday. "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 reiterated to ESPN on Wednesday that he supported the players kneeling and said that while he doesn't believe the players will kneel again this season, he'll continue to stand behind and support them.

"They have the right to express themselves, and I think Saturday was the main thing that spurred this on for them," Bjork said. "In talking to our young men, they're ready to move forward, and they want to be united as a team and focus on basketball.

"We don't think this will be a long-term situation. We have to give our student-athletes all the information on, 'Hey, if you want to have a cause, let's help you do that. Let's help you do that.' We can all argue the platforms in doing that -- and people are going to agree and disagree -- but they have the right to express themselves and be supportive of a cause."