After taking a knee during the national anthem down in Gainesville prior to Kentucky’s matchup at Florida this past weekend, UK head coach John Calipari says the team hopes to turn its focus back to basketball while bringing people together with positive change.
During his weekly call-in radio show, Calipari started things off by addressing the elephant in the room, explaining how the decision to kneel came to fruition.
“Let’s address the anthem stuff. … Both sides are stepping in this,” Calipari said. “Prior to the game, 90 minutes before the game, the guys came to me and said they wanted to kneel. I said, “Wait a minute, tell me what this is about. Why?” It was all of the images that they saw, and they wanted to have their voices heard. I said, “Well tell me what it’s about.” They talked to me about it. Then they said, “We’d like you to kneel with us,” which I did. I had my hand over my heart, but I did kneel with them because I support the guys.”
Calipari feels the ‘what’ has overshadowed the ‘why,’ stressing that the act itself “wasn’t about military” and adding that six players on the roster come from military backgrounds.
They wanted to make a peaceful stance that came from the heart in hopes of “(bringing) people together.”
“It wasn’t about military. 6 of these players – and I’m not even counting Olivier – come from military families. Either their father was in the military, their brother, uncle, a couple of their grandfathers, they were in the military,” he said. “This wasn’t about the military. Mitch (Barnhart) and I talked, Mitch comes from a military family. We are supportive of all those things and our school is, but this came from their heart. And it was peaceful. They did it to bring people together.”
Now, the team’s goal is to use their platforms to create change with not just their voices, but with their actions.
“I said to them today and even yesterday, “Look, you did your civic duty, you voted. Now let’s bring people together, let’s do that.” Some of that may be away from the media, and I told them that,” Calipari said. “I told them, “You can stand up and scream and all the things, but at the end of the day, what are you doing to bring people together?” Everything that’s done these days ends up being about, “Did you vote for him?,” “Did you vote for him?,” “You must have been for him,” “You must have been against that.” I don’t want these kids to be in anything that separates, including our fans.
“Our fans are important to our program, always have been. The difference with Kentucky is, we have Rupp Arena and we have 24,000 fans, and they travel. Whether it’s the tournaments or road games, even the last game at Florida, you heard our fans chanting at the end of that game. I know these kids, I know their heart, they didn’t do it to offend. You’re going to get both sides, “It’s the greatest thing” and “it’s the worst thing.” “They don’t care about this” and “I’ll never watch again,” “I’m never doing this.” But now people are saying, “Well, tickets are freed up, I’m buying them! I want to give money!” It’s everywhere.”
After the team’s statement in Gainesville, Calipari now hopes the attention shifts back to basketball and the team’s growth on the floor.
“All I can tell you, it’s not about the military. Not (meant) to be mean, it was peaceful. Not to offend. They wanted their voices heard and they’re young. I’m proud of this group, what they’ve been through, how they’ve been,” Calipari said. “We talked today about it, I said, “Let’s get on with basketball. Let’s get on with basketball. Let the focus be on how you’re playing as a team. Let it be about that, that we had to do some things to get the culture right. We had to demand some things that were non-negotiable here. Now we get the culture back and we start playing.
“We get a guy named Dontaie Allen, who makes shots. I sent out the tape today (about his improved defense), and our fans say, “He’s also guarding!” He’s becoming that well-rounded player, couldn’t be more proud of him. Let’s get out there and let it be about basketball.”
At the same time, he’s encouraging his players to keep pushing to “make a difference,” and do so peacefully.
“The political environment we’re in, I just wish I had answers to bring people together other than just saying, “Let’s be about the heart, let’s be about our neighbor, let’s reach out and help where we can. Do things where we can make a difference.” We talked about it, talked about it prior to the game, yesterday, and again today,” Calipari said. “I tried to tell them, look, the action we took with myself and other coaches (this summer) was the McClendon Minority Leadership (Initiative). How do we help with access and opportunity? That’s in action. Not just saying “I’m mad,” “We’re mad at this or that,” it becomes, how do we do things? How do we do things in a peaceful way? How do we make a difference?
“What we did to start and all that we’re dealing with, we’re trying to keep these kids on track. Trying to keep our fans positive about these kids, how they pick people up and what they do. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Listen to Calipari’s entire statement below, courtesy of UK Athletics: