Thomas Jefferson and the Kneeling National Anthem Razorbacks

Why the Razorbacks’ national anthem kneeling fulfills some Founding Fathers’ vision for America

A statewide hubbub erupted earlier in November after six members of the Razorback women’s basketball team kneeled during a pre-game performance of the national anthem. “You all know that there’s been a lot of killings* from police officers of African-Americans and other minorities,” Razorback Jordan Danberry, a Conway native, said after the game at Bud Walton Arena. “Me and my teammates took a knee today during the national anthem to speak for those who are oppressed. As Razorback student-athletes, we have a platform to do that.”

Their head coach, Jimmy Dykes, and the UA athletic director Jeff Long defended their actions. “I am very, very proud of them,” Coach Dykes said. “They had very, very strong, well-informed, educated opinions based on their real-life experiences, their real-life emotions. Mr. Long added: “University campuses are places of learning and thus places where differences of opinion and varying perspectives are recognized. We respect the rights of our student-athletes and all individuals to express themselves on important issues in our nation.”

Already, thousands of Arkansans — including high-profile politicians — have begun blasting the Lady  Razorbacks who refused to stand. Laura Rushing, for instance, Tweeted: “I might just take a knee on UofA funding. Leadership needs to go!”

State senator Jason Rapert chimed in: “I agree Senator. Perhaps we reconsider the U of A budget since some in leadership don’t get it.”

I respectfully disagree, Sen. Rapert et al.

Public funding of higher education should not be cut because young women dared exercise their rights of free speech in front of fans who had paid to watch them do something else. Coach Dykes and Mr. Long should not be fired for their support of these women.

If anything, they should be praised.

A red white and blue flag wrapped around a soldier’s tomb is a strong symbol, sure. It often elicits strong emotions, yes. But a flag and a tomb are, at their core, manufactured products. The United States of America is supposed to represent something different.

The Razorbacks’ protest in Fayetteville reminds us the United States of America itself is a manmade invention, too. It had a beginning and will have an end. The more important things it represents, though, precede it and should persist long after it fades.

More than 240 years ago, the Founding Fathers did not conjure the United States as something that in and of itself should deserve and command respect, gratitude and unswerving loyalty.

Instead, they created it as a governing apparatus with a primary function of preserving the rights and freedoms of individuals living in specific geographic areas.  And one of the those liberties is the right to free speech without (financial or corporeal) punishment if said speech offends those in power.

The fabrication we call the “U.S.A.” exists to edify and protect its people, not the other way around.

The U.S.A. was founded as an ongoing political experiment meant to be refined and perfected by ongoing criticism, protest and peaceful dissent.  “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty,” George Washington wrote, “is finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People.”

In a 1804 letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote: ”No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”

Today’s “press” is more fragmented and prevalent now than in Jefferson’s newspaper-centric day. The protesting Razorbacks have taken of advantage of this. They deliberated with Coach Dykes beforehand on the consequences of their actions; they knew word of it would quickly spread on social media and online news sites.

So did Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who sparked this most recent round of athlete protests by sitting out of a national anthem in an August preseason game.  “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said afterword.

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

This sentiment rubs many Arkansans the wrong way. They believe it disrespects the U.S. soldiers who have died in order to protect the U.S. and the very First Amendment rights the Lady Razorbacks exercised by kneeling on the court.

It doesn’t. Because often these soldiers and these athlete protestors act and suffer out of love for the very same thing: life and liberty. We can call it “American” life and liberty, but the adjective pales in importance to the nouns following it.

Granted, the costs entailed are on different scales. Soldiers can lose life and limb; Athlete protestors can lose sponsorship money and fan support. But both sides believe they are acting in defense of the things which matter most.

Hog fan Mike Todd touched on this in a recent post on the Razorback Coaches Facebook page. He wrote his father was a World War II Navy veteran. “When an activist in LR was going to burn the flag on the Capital steps I asked him what he thought of that. He said it was the guy’s right. I said ‘But you fought for that flag.’

I’ll never forget his words: ‘I didn’t fight for a flag. I fought for the rights it stands for – including burning it if you want to.’”

At its best, the “United States of America” and all the red, white and blue-clad pomp and circumstance this manmade invention may entail, provides a structure through which we can peacefully disagree and learn from that disagreement — without fear of retribution.

Before threatening to cut funding to Arkansas’ flagship university, our state’s leaders would do well to remember that.

 

*According to analysis by the Washington Post, black people in America are two and a half times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans.

Shekinna Stricklin Joins Mt. Rushmore of Highest Arkansan Draft Picks in Major Sports League History

On Monday, Morrilton native Shekinna Stricklin became the second Arkansan to be taken as a  #2 overall pick in the draft of a major sports league*  By my count, only former NBA players Jim Barnes and Joe Barry Carroll have been drafted higher among native Arkansans. Congrats to Stricklin, who will soon be starting training camp with the Seattle Storm. Throughout her college career at Tennessee, she proved to be the one of the most versatile women in college basketball (I’d say #2 overall, after Delaware’s ridiculous Elena Delle Donne, who likely has been giving Joe Foley nightmares for weeks)

Here are athletes with Arkansas connections to be taken highest in a major sports league’s regular draft**:

  • Number #1 – Jeff King of Arkansas Razorbacks (1986 by MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • Number #1 – Jim Barnes of Tuckerman (1964 by NBA’s New York Knicks)
  • Number #1 – Joe Barry Carroll of Pine Bluff (1980 by NBA’s Golden State Warriors)
  • Number #2 – Lamar McHan of Lake Village and Arkansas Razorbacks (1954 by NFL’s Chicago Cardinals)
  • Number #3 – Cortez Kennedy of Osceola (1990 by NFL’s Seattle Seahawks)
  • Number #3 – Kay Eakin of Atkins and Arkansas Razorbacks (1940 by NFL’s Pittsburgh Pirates) [h/t to @bwaldrum for bringing Eakin to my attention]

None of the above #1 picks graduated from an Arkansas high school like #2 picks McHan or Stricklin. Jeff King was a Colorado native. Joe Barry Carroll moved to Denver as a child and Jim Barnes moved to Texas as a teenager.

*Yes, I consider the WNBA a major sports league. Basketball is a major sport, and millions of women play it. Although those women can earn more money in overseas leagues, no female league in the world surpasses the WNBA in terms of a) quality of basketball competition and b) a platform for marketing opportunities.

** No supplemental or January drafts for me. Also, call me lazy and irresponsible, but no checking of the NHL or MLB draft histories either. I simply can’t believe an Arkansan has snuck into the top three picks in either of these sports, despite the wee-est sign of emergent national cache in soccer. For that matter, I would be shocked if an Arkie has gotten into the top 10 picks in either sport.

But I’m open to surprise. So please, somebody, surprise me.

UPDATE: Surprise accomplished. Turns out former #1 overall MLB draft pick, Pat Burrell,  spent the first few years of his life in Eureka  Springs before moving to California, playing against Tom Brady in high school football, becoming an actual Hurricane at the University of Miami and then a metaphorical hurricane of drinking, sexing and bat-swinging at subsequent major league stops in Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and San Francisco. [h/t to Caleb Hardwick]

Megan Herbert: Arkansas Razorbacks’ Loss is UCA Sugar Bears’ Gain

The question begs to be asked.

How does a superstar prep athlete grow up in the backyard of the Razorbacks but not come close to signing with the program? No scholarship offer or even the hint of one?

Such was the case with college junior Megan Herbert, who is taking the University of Central Arkansas basketball program to new heights. Before she was a Sugar Bear, though, the Northwest Arkansas native was raised a Razorback fan. The five-foot-11 power forward starred at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale and played on summer traveling teams for more exposure. In the end, though, she was offered only one scholarship – to UCA. Naturally, Herbert remains grateful.

“I was more than ecstatic to come to UCA,” she says. “It did not hurt my feelings at all” that Arkansas didn’t offer a scholarship, she adds.

The most obvious reason why she likely didn’t offers from bigger programs is size. SEC post players are typically 6-foot-3 and above, and Herbert would likely have had to transform into a wing player (which she played in junior high before shooting up eight inches from 5-feet-3 in the span of a couple years).

“I knew I was undersized,” Herbert says. “I also knew it didn’t matter if I played hard.”

Herbert’s stepfather, Mike Wakefield, says he was surprised Herbert didn’t get more attention from Arkansas and its head coach Tom Collen.  “In all the time she was right here in Arkansas’ backyard, she got one Christmas card from them [as] total recruiting material. She got more from Pat Summitt at Tennessee than she got from Tom Collen at Arkansas.”

Continue reading Megan Herbert: Arkansas Razorbacks’ Loss is UCA Sugar Bears’ Gain

“I think it would be good for both of us.” – Megan Herbert on possibility of UCA-UALR basketball

 The recent football successes of UA and ASU have triggered new rounds of debate whether those teams should play against each other. Still, despite recent strides made by the ASU program, it’s a hypothetical clash unlikely to happen any time soon.
 Following is another possible matchup that’s a lot closer to reality, and could be just as interesting for its colleges’ fans:

  No two women have meant more to basketball in central Arkansas in the last few years than Chastity Reed and Megan Herbert. Reed, who graduated last year, became UALR’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder while leading the Trojans to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Herbert, a junior, could make a similar splash in UCA’s record books. The Southland Conference Player of the Year is a conference tournament title away from helping UCA crash its first March Madness.
The women’s legacies may end up looking similar on paper, but the players have hardly been more different on the court. Reed, a wing player, dazzled crowds with superior athleticism, a quick crossover and a devastating mid-range game. Herbert is just as skilled but has a much more subtle game, filled with deft high-low passing, flip shots and an almost Tim Duncanesque economy of movement.
Their personalities seem near opposites as well. Always intense, Reed jawed much of the game, as flamboyant as her New Orleans roots. Herbert’s more measured, quick to smile but slow to let her competitiveness boil over in front of fans.  Both women have made their programs extremely proud.
  It’s a shame, though, they never played each other.
The women of UALR and UCA already compete in soccer and volleyball. They should compete in basketball, too.  Herbert agrees: “They have a great program and we’re trying to get our  program where we’re highly recognized in the state, too. I think it would be good for both of us.”

UCA women seek to avenge men’s Philander Smith loss

A shot at redemption bounces UCA's way

On November 16, the UCA Bears fell to an NAIA team, 97-90.

When it comes to low points of a nascent head coaching career, it will be hard to top this one for Corliss Williamson, the former Razorbacks star now entering the conference portion of his second year at the helm of a Division I school.

“Philander Smith had a great game,” says UCA Sugar Bear Megan Herbert, who attended the game. “They outplayed us, they outhustled us, they basically outworked us. Nothing against the men’s team, but Philander wanted to win that game.”

If there is any silver lining in that loss for UCA athletics, it reminds the women’s team to not take any win for granted. Instead, it motivates the reigning Southland Conference player of the year: “The men shouldn’t have lost that game, and now that we get to play them, we shouldn’t lose. So, I think there’s inspiration to go out there and show them really what UCA basketball is all about.”

After losing to Philander, the Bears won five consecutive game, then lost four in a row. At times, its young players seem to be auditioning for the lead roles in a Southland Conference Theatre rendition of “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.”

The women have been more consistent. They have lost only three games and only one of those losses (UMKC – Summit League) came against a team that wasn’t from a high D1 conference. In order for the Sugar Bears to take another step toward becoming a mid-major power, the program must win a Southland Conference and advance to the NCAA Touranment.
For that to happen, it needs to build momentum throughout the conference schedule.

That means, like in the past couple seasons, consistently winning at home – by springing upsets against the likes of Alabama and Indiana … and avoiding them against the Philander Smiths of the world.

Exacting revenge against Philander is “in our head,” says freshman Sharlay Burris. “We owe them one.”

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   Faulkner County may be a dry county, but wet’s the word on the video room wall of its best women’s basketball team.
There, on a board, Sugar Bear coaches lay out goals for their players and their chart progress on a game-to-game basis. Raindrops signify a goal was accomplished, while writing in black means the goal was nearly done.  The numbers in red mean there was a lot of work left undone.