The East Tennessee State (ETSU) men’s basketball team was embroiled in controversy during the season when players knelt for the national anthem. The move sparked a fervent reaction that went all the way to the Tennessee Statehouse.
Coach Jason Shay resigned earlier this week and players who were on his team have spoken out about his departure, alleging the university forced him out over the kneeling protest during the season.
“I personally feel like him resigning is crazy,” Buccaneers guard Truth Harris told ESPN on Thursday. “It shows a lot of what is going on in this town, and in this country right now.”
Another Buccaneers guard Jordan Coffin added: “All this about us kneeling, and then Coach Shay supporting us through all of that. People should want a coach that stands behind the players through anything. For that to be a part of why he has to resign, then I don’t want no part of that.”
Shay was named a finalist for the Joe B. Hall award, which is given to the top first-year Division I Basketball Coach but lost to UC Riverside’s Mike Magpayo. Shay said in a statement it was in the “best interest” of himself, the family and the program to resign.
“This past year has been extremely challenging for me in many different ways,” he said. “It is the right time for a new challenge and an opportunity to reset my personal and professional goals.”
East Tennessee State athletic director Scott Carter denied Shay was forced to step down.
“I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the speculation that appears in the news and on social media. ETSU did not fire Coach Shay nor force Coach Shay to resign. As outlined in the terms of the separation agreement, in Coach Shay’s statement and in my previous statement, Coach Shay decided to resign,” Carter said.
Carter added that Shay will receiver $450,000 per the parties’ separation agreement, according to WJHL-TV.
Shay supported the team’s national anthem protest during the season. In February, Tennessee Republicans put ETSU and other Tennessee schools on notice after the team knelt.
“The National Anthem is a symbol of pride for America,” a letter to the schools read. “It lifts our spirits toward the ideals upon which our great country was founded: that all are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The senators added: “During athletic competitions, our student athletes represent not only themselves, but also our universities and all the citizens of this state, many of whom view this form of protest as offensive and disrespectful to the very thing our National Anthem represents. While we recognize our student athletes may express their own views on a variety of issues in their personal time, we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or flag while they are representing our state universities.
“When they don the jersey of a Tennessee university, they step out of their personal roles and into the role of an ambassador for our state. We expect all those who walk onto the field of play representing our universities to also walk onto the field of play to show respect for our National Anthem.”
The lawmakers urged school officials to implement rules against kneeling during the anthem.
Fox News’ Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.