On Thursday afternoon, a Kansas State University student and organizer of a conservative student group posted a tweet that made light of the death of George Floyd Jr. at the hands of police on the 1-month anniversary of the event. (Note: Bring on the Cats will not give the student or his organization additional publicity by naming either.)
Overnight, the tweet came to the attention of several members of the Kansas State football team, who condemned the message and made some calls to action.
A few of the teammates who tweeted about the situation were:
- Joshua Youngblood, who tweeted that he wouldn’t play for the Wildcats until the situation was dealt with; that tweet has since been deleted, presumably after conversations with the coaching staff.
- Tyrone Lewis Jr., who tweeted, “This is unacceptable, what makes you wake up in the morning with this much hate? Something has to change!!”
- Harry Trotter, who tweeted, “Claiming to be ‘Christian’ and making senseless jokes about the unjust murder of a black man don’t mix. I stand with my teammates and forever will be with them in OUR fight against social injustice,”
- Malik Knowles, who tweeted, “What makes you think Is something cool to say bro .. @KState we have to make a change.”
- Skylar Thompson, who tweeted, “I can’t even put into words how I feel right now. My heart hurts. The fact that the comment made is being referred to as a joke is disgusting. That’s the problem, people think this is a joke. The tweet HURT my brothers & sisters of color & it’s not acceptable. I stand with them!”
Various other players also tweeted, or retweeted their teammates’ messages, and Head Coach Chris Klieman had this to say: “Our program and our coaches will continue to be part of the solution when it comes to racial injustice. I love our players and they know I have their backs.”
Messages condemning the joke and supporting students standing against hate didn’t stop with the football team, though. K-State administrators at several levels have weighed in via Twitter:
- Athletic Director Gene Taylor: “Recent tweets from a K-State student downplaying the Black Lives Matter effort and the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd are disgusting and totally inappropriate and not reflective of who we are as a University or our Athletic Department. They are not reflective of our administration and goals. We are committed to listening and supporting our black athletes, black students and members of our black community and taking positive steps in the matters of social injustice and racism.”
- Dean of Students Thomas Lane: “They are not reflective of our administration and goals. We are committed to listening and supporting our black athletes, black students and members of our black community and taking positive steps in the matters of social injustice and racism. It is in blatant opposition to the values we hold close and aspire to as a university, such as diversity, inclusion, civility and respect. K-State condemns the post in the strongest of terms. It does not reflect who we are as confirmed by the outrage expressed by so many campus community members. Bigotry, prejudice & racism have no place here.”
- President Richard Myers (via the overall K-State Twitter account): “The insensitive comments posted by one K-State student hurts our entire community. These divisive statements do not represent for the values of our university. We condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms. We are launching an immediate review of the university’s options. Black Lives Matter at Kansas State University and we will continue to fight for social justice.”
- Provost Chuck Taber: “I join President Myers and many members of our community in condemning racism and calling out the divisive comments of a K-State student. Black lives matter at K-State. Social justice matters at K-State. We are reviewing university options.”
Head basketball coach Bruce Weber also weighed in, saying “I am united with all our #KState student-athletes for using their voices to stand up to racism and injustice. This disgusting comment is not representative of the K-State that I know and love. I strive to continue to work with our team on solutions and against all hate.”
Many observers, both in and outside the K-State community, have called for K-State to expel the student over his racist message. But even if university leaders would like to expel him, the university’s ability to discipline students for speech is limited because K-State is a public university. Schools have more ability to restrict free speech than the government at-large, but numerous court rulings have required schools have clear, specific reasons to limit speech, such as Tinker v. Des Moines, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that restricted speech must “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.”
It is unfortunate that these events have overshadowed a great piece of news, as K-State helped members of the football team register to vote in states across the country on Friday morning. Assistant Head Coach Van Malone tweeted just before noon about the effort:
I am so proud of our team and our coaches... This am we registered our team to vote in states all over the country. They way we respond to ignorance is knowledge... the way we respond to hate is with love... WE WILL stamp out darkness, but we will do it with light!!!! pic.twitter.com/sldo4nVsd7— K-State Coach Van B Malone (@VanBMalone3rd) June 26, 2020
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