Before Kent State’s men’s basketball home opener this week, the Golden Flashes made a statement about racial unity by inviting members of the audience to stand with them during the National Anthem. Unlike many athletic teams across the country that have chosen to focus on making divisive political statements while the “Star-Spangled Banner” is being played, each member of the Kent State team went into the audience to invite someone of another race to stand with him during the song ahead of the team’s 93-63 win over visiting Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday.
Kent State coach Rob Senderoff told ESPN that senior guard Deon Edwin, who grew up in the Virgin Islands, came up with the idea. All of the team’s seniors agreed, so the coach took the idea to the rest of the players.
“This was not my idea,” Senderoff said. “This was something they came up with and brought to me. My first reaction was, ‘What a statement for them to make.’ For a bunch of 18- to 22-year-olds to come up with this is incredibly mature.”
“They were vocal to me that they didn’t want to protest,” Senderoff added. “They wanted to make it clear that this was a statement, and not a protest — something that hopefully can help bring about change.”
The audience was initially unaware of what was happening, not realizing until a lineup representing multiple races appeared on the floor for the song that they were experiencing a very special and profound moment. Men, women, boys, girls, young, old, black and white stood together. Some had hands over their hearts, several sang with gusto, and many had their arms draped around one another in a show of unity.
“It went very well. It came off very organic,” said Eugene Canal, a spokesman for the school, which has an enrollment of 41,000. “All the players went into the stands and picked people from the crowd. Everyone came down on the court and was arm-to-shoulder. Fans seemed to really appreciate it.”
“It was cool because I don’t think anyone in the crowd knew what was going on. None of the fans knew about it beforehand.”
After the game Edwin said, “It was a special moment,” and added, “we all came together as one. It wasn’t about color of skin. If we can do that at a small school, everyone can do it.”
Edwin told ESPN on Friday that after seeing the protests at football games with players taking knees and putting their fists up during the National Anthem, he told his coach he wanted something different for his team. “I wanted to stand for something,” he said, “and not disrespect the people—the families who went through the war and fight for our freedom.”
He asked Coach Senderoff, “Can we just go into the stands and get students, younger kids, older folks, different [races] from all skin colors and just come together as human beings instead of just a race? And then sure enough we did it.”
Next page: ESPN’s interview with Edwin and the video of the National Anthem at Kent State
"I wanted to stand for something." – @Prime_Time3o on Kent State's unifying national anthem. pic.twitter.com/qkG3jhJ8DA
— Outside The Lines (@OTLonESPN) November 18, 2016
He said that the team plans to repeat the gesture for every home game this year and he hopes other college teams—and maybe even the pros—will follow Kent’s lead.
“I really do,” he said. “Everyone watches college sports. If people see it happen, maybe they’ll do it. Then maybe the pros will do it also. It’s something we can all do together.”
Sophomore guard Jalen Avery said after the game, “We wanted to make a statement to let everybody know that we are aware of all the things that are going on in our country, but that we wanted to make a stand for unity.” He said the team wanted to show fans that they treat “everybody as one.”
“The statement our players made was a tremendously positive one,” Coach Senderoff said. “I have a lot of African American players on my team that have faced discrimination throughout their life just because of the color of their skin. And I think the statement they wanted to make was ‘I’m greater than that. I’m a person. We’re all people. And we’re going to try to bring some unity here on this campus.’ Hopefully I think they made a really positive statement with what they did.”
“It’s about togetherness at the end of the day,” senior forward Jimmy Hall added. “We’re one race, so that was just the biggest thing we tried to do.”
Here’s a short clip of the National Anthem:
— Kent State Athletics (@KentStAthletics) November 17, 2016
You can see a longer video that includes players going into the stands at ESPN’s website: