Lady Vols kneel- Arkansas at Tennessee

Jan 7, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; The Tennessee Lady Vols kneel during the national anthem before the game against Arkansas Razorbacks at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Following the calls and protests for racial equality in this past year, the Lady Vols have been leaders in the community in promoting this equality.

The biggest step the Lady Vols took in promoting racial equality first came on Jan. 7, in their SEC opener against Arkansas.

The majority of the team knelt during the playing of the national anthem, one day after the violence that unfolded at the United States Capitol.

“We thought that with everything going on — especially here recently in Washington and everything, that's what we saw fit to do,” senior Rennia Davis said after the game. “The people on the team who saw fit to support that, they did. And the ones who didn't, they supported us in a different way.”

Not every Lady Vol knelt during the anthem. Freshman Tess Darby was the lone player to remain standing, alongside the coaching staff. According to the players and coaches, it was not something that had been discussed beforehand, or something the coaches suggested.

"It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment-type of thing,” junior Rae Burrell said, “We didn't really plan to do it. But with everything happening yesterday and over the summer, we just felt that it needed to be done.”

Not everyone, however, took this lightly. There was a fair amount of backlash from the crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena, who were not happy with their team kneeling.

“We were able to see who some of our real fans were today, and who weren't," Davis said. "So it was great to see who was really on our side and have our backs outside of basketball and as actual people.”

Despite the reaction from many fans, Tennessee’s head coach Kellie Harper and her staff supported their players and the message they were communicating.

“I think a lot of it is just the emotions of what's going on right now and where they are with things,” Harper said. "It's been hard to watch things on television and know where things are in the world. But hopefully we can help be the change, maybe a positive light.”

“I know they'll get some negative reactions. For them, they made a statement. And I think they need to stick to that,” said Harper. “I don't know that you have to go back and forth. It does hurt them when they see negative comments, because they feel so strongly about what they're doing. But, you know, that's just life: You've got to deal with negativity. If you're strong enough with what you believe, and you just believe it, you just march right on.”

More recently, the Lady Vols have not even taken the court for the anthem, opting to remain inside the locker room during the song’s playing. The players implemented the policy following a road trip to Baton Rouge, where LSU remained in their locker room before the game.

“Well, we like what LSU did,” sophomore Jordan Horston said after the team began the new policy. “So we thought, ‘maybe we could try it out.’ And it worked out pretty good for us. We’re probably going to keep doing it.”

As Harper had mentioned earlier, the team has not backed down from what it believes. The Lady Vols have continued to stay in the locker room for the national anthem, despite the negative response from the fans. They have not been swayed, but have remain focused on the message, and they are trying to communicate.

“We know what we stand for, we know what we believe in, as individuals and as a team,” sophomore Tamari Key said. “So we try to stay away from the negative comments. It doesn’t really matter for us. We just know that what we stand for, what we believe in, is something that we felt we should express with the platform that we have. And we’re very proud of that, as a team.”

And with Black History Month underway, Harper and her team have continued plans to discuss and promote racial equality.

“I think with everything that has happened this past year, I think it just kind of hits home a little harder,” Harper said. “We want to make sure that we are not just talking about equality and racial injustice, but that we are also having an educational piece.”

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