LEXINGTON, Ky. — After three days of backlash from the Kentucky men's basketball team's decision to kneel during the national anthem, coach John Ca
LEXINGTON, Ky. — After three days of backlash from the Kentucky men’s basketball team’s decision to kneel during the national anthem, coach John Calipari said the timing of the demonstration may not have been wise.
“These kids, they’re good kids,” Calipari said Tuesday after his team’s 85-65 loss to Alabama when asked about the criticism of Saturday’s protest. “They have good hearts. This political time, probably not a real good time to do it.”
Calipari learned his players wanted to kneel during the anthem before Saturday’s game at Florida just more than an hour before the game. After explaining their rationale for the demonstration, players asked Calipari and the other Kentucky coaches to kneel with them.
The staff, including the Hall of Fame head coach, kneeled with players during the anthem, though Calipari did still hold his hand over his heart while the song was played.
Response to the protest has been mixed, but several of the most negative reactions have come from Kentucky politicians.
The sheriff and jailer in Laurel County posted a video to Facebook of them burning Kentucky T-shirts. The Knox County Fiscal Court adopted a resolution asking Gov. Andy Beshear and members of the state legislature to reallocate tax funds given to the University of Kentucky in response to the team’s protest. Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, delivered an emotional address Monday night on the Senate floor, saying he was “hurt” by the team’s actions because of his family’s ties to the military.
“Half of these kids come form military families,” Calipari said. “…This had nothing to do with military. They had all the stuff that was going on, and they felt like they needed to do something.”
On his radio show Monday night, Calipari said he told his team it was time to “get on with basketball.” In the first game since the backlash to the protest started rolling in, Kentucky was blown out by Alabama in a matchup for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings.
“You don’t need to speak now,” Calipari said he told the team. “You need to have action. How do you bring people together? How do you make a difference? Not just, how do you make a statement?”
Calipari said the team will work on finding actions to address the issues players knelt to bring awareness to in the wake of the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol, but the next steps likely will not come in front of cameras.
As has been the case at Rupp Arena all season, Kentucky players were not on the court for the anthem before Tuesday’s game against Alabama. Asked for clarification why teams are not on the court for the anthem this year as they had been in previous seasons, a Kentucky spokesman pointed to an offseason SEC rule change eliminating the requirement teams be on the floor for the anthem.
“We reevaluated our pregame routine to fit what worked best for our team,” he said.
Asked to clarify if his assessment that the politically charged climate may have made this an inopportune time to kneel meant he thought the protest was a mistake, Calipari said no.
“I’m not saying that,” he said. “It’s what they wanted to do. … They felt the timing was right because of what they’re seeing on TV.”
Follow Jon Haleon Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.