Governor: No position on Mississippi players’ anthem kneeling

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Tuesday that he hasn’t given much thought about the University of Mississippi basketball players who knelt during the national anthem to protest a pro-Confederate gathering on campus.

“I’ve been in Washington and I’ve been dealing with the storms and just haven’t had much of a chance to look at it,” Bryant said at the state Capitol.

Bryant, a Republican who is in his eighth and final year as governor, was in Washington during the weekend for a National Governors’ Association meeting and other activities. He issued an emergency declaration Monday because of tornadoes and flooding since Friday in Mississippi.

Eight University of Mississippi players knelt Saturday before a home game in Oxford.

“We’re just tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus like we have these hate groups in our actual school,” the team’s scoring leader, Breein Tyree, said during a news conference after the game.

Security was tight as about 100 people carrying rebel flags and Mississippi’s state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem, gathered Saturday near a Confederate soldier statue on campus to protest what they see as threats to symbols of the Old South. About the same number of counter-protesters also gathered on campus with signs reading, “Y’all Lost” and “Black Lives Matter.” The two groups yelled at one another from behind barricades about 100 yards apart.

The nickname for athletic teams remains the Rebels, but Mississippi retired the Colonel Reb mascot in 2003 amid criticism that the bearded old man looked like a plantation owner. In 1997, administrators banned sticks in the football stadium, which largely stopped people from waving Confederate battle flags. The marching band no longer plays “Dixie.”

The university announced in 2014 that it would provide historical context for Old South symbols as a way to acknowledge its history and to make a diverse student body feel more welcome. In 2016, the university added a plaque with information about slavery and the Civil War to the Confederate soldier statue that has been on campus since 1906.

Bryant in the past has declared April as Confederate Heritage Month.

He also said in September that he supported the Mississippi Department of Public Safety’s decision to stop buying Nike gear because the company was using former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign. Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and social injustice.

Emily Wagster Pettus is an Associated Press writer.

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