When he took the knee, he knew what was coming. Kentucky has been a reliably red state since the 1990’s, when the vote only turned for Southern President Bill Clinton. The state finished the 2020 count with a 62% Republican vote, there is no amount of swing that could change the political outlook of the state of Kentucky. Furthermore, it’s getting increasingly red with the voters trend for the Republican side creeping up each year. The strong conservatism of Kentucky means that political expression on a predominantly black college sports team is often suppressed. However, steps are being taken to ensure that voices are being heard.
The decision made by the players at the Kentucky basketball program was not one that was made without thought. It was a gesture to stop thoughtless actions. The protest was inspired by MAGA’s storm on the Capitol building just three days prior.
Kentucky players approached coach John Calipari before the game and asked him if he would kneel with them. His right arm strung across his body and his hand adorned to his heart, ‘Coach C’ knelt with his team. Here, Calipari joined the very short list of college Basketball coaches that have knelt during the anthem. With most Major athletic programs too afraid of losing conservative investors to even play “the Star-Spangled Banner” with the players on the court.
Calipari’s gesture was met with fierce backlash on Twitter, with some claiming the coach had shown distinct contempt and disregard for the armed forces by kneeling during the anthem. Videos surfaced online of fans burning their Kentucky shirts. I cannot fathom how showing support for black activists and having respect for troops are two incongruous thoughts. This is a clear example of the radicalisation of American politics.
It is also worth noting that it is also possible that Calipari’s spiralling approval rating is compounded by his teams lacklustre 1-6 start to the season. Furthermore, the Wildcats have failed to bring home a National title since 2012. It is a torrid time in Kentucky right now.
Here, it is important to take a deep dive into John Calipari’s politics. In 2010, Calipari was scalded by Republicans following a fundraiser party hosted at his house for Democrat Steve Beshar. He also received criticism when he announced that he planned to send a Kentucky jersey to Obama in the September of the same year. It seems that being the coach of the Big Blue didn’t mean much when you are surrounded by a sea of red. Since then, Calipari has disentangled sports and politics. Staying fiercely independent over the past ten years, not showing any intent for either side.
In 2010 he stated that “I appreciate every elected official who supports the University of Kentucky, regardless of party.” And has been impartial ever since. A political chameleon, he has often cozied up with both gubernatorial sides, however never claimed a stance. Fast forward to 2021, and Calipari is making a politically charged statement in the middle of a court. What has changed? We have reached a point in Sports where it is an act of racism to remain quiet.
Politics aside, John Calipari has always taken a strong stance in defending his players, especially black players. He is so overt with his intent to get them through college and into the NBA as quickly as possible. It was imperative that he made this statement and stood beside them. Especially whilst these young men are at a stage in their life when they are piecing together who they are, and their self-expression is vital. Once again, Calipari carries the torch for progressive front offices and continues to be his own man. Clearly they were doing something right, as they blew-out Florida State in their biggest win of the season.