Bluefield College, an NAIA school in Virginia, forfeited its men's basketball game on Thursday after suspending several players for kneeling during the national anthem before games in January and February.
In a statement, school president David Olive said he told the basketball players to stop kneeling before games. When the players refused, Olive chose to suspend the players who kneeled, leading to Thursday's game against Reinhardt being forfeited.
"The basis for my decision stemmed from my own awareness of how kneeling is perceived by some in our country, and I did not think a number of our alumni, friends and donors of the college would view the act of kneeling during the anthem in a positive way," Olive said, per WVVA.
Olive said he spoke with players, coaches, and the school's athletic director, Tonia Walker, about the issue. He said he wasn't initially aware of the players' decision to kneel but learned on Feb. 1 that players had done it at Bluefield's previous home game. Olive added that he later became aware of players kneeling in two prior road games. After learning of the players' actions, Olive told head coach Richard Morgan that it "would not be allowed going forward."
Bluefield football player Jewels Gray told ESPN that the basketball team was told before the season started that they could kneel in protest. Gray said he has discussed the suspension with members of the basketball team and the basketball players were told not to release a personal statement or speak with media about the subject.
"Why would our school contradict what they said?" Gray asked ESPN. "We had meetings before the season with [the athletic director] and the president, and they stated that we can kneel and they'd support and be behind us, 100%."
After Olive's order to the team, Bluefield players chose to ignore it. On Feb. 4, Morgan decided to keep his team in the locker room during the national anthem.
"I further told them that their intended message in bringing awareness of racial injustices was being diluted or completely lost because some saw their act of kneeling as being disrespectful to the flag, our country, and to our veterans," Olive said in the statement. "In my opinion, their message was not being heard."
The players kneeled before Tuesday's home game against Tennessee Wesleyan. Following the game, Olive told Morgan "that there would be consequences for the actions of the players."