Anthem directive sparks disagreement at Tabor

New rule requires student athletes to stand during national anthem

Nov 17, 2017 by and

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In the week after Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game Oct. 8 in protest of athletes kneeling during the national anthem to challenge racial injustice, Tabor College coaches received an email applicable to all players, coaches and personnel preparing to compete: “All will stand during the National Anthem. This is required in order to participate in the competition.”

Tabor vice president of athletics Rusty Allen said no athlete at the Mennonite Brethren college in Hillsboro, Kan., had done anything that could be considered disrespectful during the anthem to instigate the rule.

“We had a choice to either consider a posture of being reactive or being proactive,” he said. “Our coaches and myself feel that’s not the time for protest — right when a game will start when we want to have a unified focus on the game. We just felt like it can be misinterpreted so easily.”

A kneeling figure is part of “Called to Serve,” a set of statues on Tabor College’s Centennial Plaza, dedicated in 2008. — Tim Huber/MWR

A kneeling figure is part of “Called to Serve,” a set of statues on Tabor College’s Centennial Plaza, dedicated in 2008. — Tim Huber/MWR

Athletes make up a majority of the student body. In recent years, more than 400 students, or roughly 80 percent — participate on one of 18 varsity sport teams. The policy applies to a lesser extent to football — which lists 100 on the roster — because the team is in the locker room for home games during the anthem.

“We had a number of teams that had already decided, for the sake of the unity of the team, they wanted to all stand for the national anthem,” Tabor President Jules Glanzer said. “And we thought it would be good for all our athletic teams, for our country, for those who have served, for the players and family members who have served, to not bring dissension onto the field of play.

“We asked them to all do that, and there was total agreement among all athletes and coaches for that. It was not so much a school policy, but a team rule.”

No other Anabaptist college or university has a policy for student athlete conduct during the anthem.

Student opposition

Tabor soccer player Sierra Sanchez of Chonburi, Thailand, who has also played basketball, said several student athletes are opposed to the anthem policy. Her concerns arose from being uncomfortable with nationalism due to her Anabaptist beliefs.

“Whether it’s for the flag or the people who fought, the word we keep hearing is respect,” she said. “I don’t think anyone has talked about respect in regard to chapel. . . . You can be on your phone the whole time and not stand for worship or prayer and have your headphones on.

“We don’t require respect in a gospel environment, but we mandate it for the empire. A lot of students are noticing that inconsistency.”

While Sanchez’s opposition is rooted mainly in her Anabaptist identity, she said other students feel the policy dismisses racial issues experienced by nonwhite students, many of whom are athletes. Though subtle, racism exists on campus, she said.

“Whether it’s in passing comments or jokes or stereotypes, it’s definitely a reality at Tabor,” she said.

Glanzer said students and faculty have a right to protest in many ways, just not when participating in athletics.

“We have had no student within the teams that I am aware of that has in any way said they don’t approve what we’re doing,” Glanzer said.

Faculty members said about two-thirds of the Tabor faculty met with Glanzer on Oct. 24, and about a dozen expressed concerns about the policy, in particular that it seems inconsistent with Article 12 of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches’ Confession of Faith. The article states, in part, that “believers witness against corruption, discrimination and injustice” and that “the primary allegiance of all Christians is to Christ’s kingdom, not the state or society. Because their citizenship is in heaven, Christians are called to resist the idolatrous temptation to give to the state the devotion that is owed to God.” Tabor’s bylaws stipulate all college rules must be in “complete harmony” with the USMB Confession.

“We are just doing here what is a practice done over the years,” Glanzer said. “When the national anthem is played, we stand. That’s been something that has been done throughout our history. It’s part of the culture.

“If this is a Confession of Faith issue, then I would really take issue with those who are kneeling, because they are now paying homage to the state, and that would be as much breaking the Confession of Faith, even more so than standing.”

Sanchez said the general perception among students is one of confusion.

“We have our Bible professors saying it is contradictory and the administration saying it’s not,” she said. “A lot of students are confused, asking just what does the Confession say, because we’re getting two contradictory statements.”

Allen said Tabor was not requiring anyone to put their hand over their heart or to think anything and noted the Confession is focused on bringing God’s love into society.

“We are 100 percent behind that concept,” he said. “. . . In no way are we proposing — we never would — that someone should give their allegiance to their country. As Christians our allegiance is to God foremost.”

Justice statement

Inspired by discussions with students about the anthem policy and injustices taking place in the U.S., Allen wrote a “justice statement” that was read Nov. 1 at the first basketball games of the season, preceding a moment of silence and prayer, followed by the national anthem.

The opponent was College of the Ozarks, of Point Lookout, Mo.

Earlier that week, College of the Ozarks was stripped of hosting the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Division II men’s basketball tournament after 18 years of doing so, due to the college’s policy requiring athletes not to participate in any game in which an opposing team member takes a knee, sits or turns its back to the flag during the anthem. The policy has potential to impact the tournament. The school also requested the NAIA adopt a policy requiring all players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Allen hopes Tabor’s justice statement can be used at other sporting events that use public address.

“My hope is that people in their own minds will think, ‘How can I help in some way?’ or ask God to shine his light in those places where this is a problem,” Allen said.

At the women’s basketball game Nov. 1, Tabor players held hands in a circle during the statement and moment of silence and turned to face the flag during the anthem. At the men’s game, players stood in front of the bench while about a dozen students and other adult spectators sat or knelt in the bleachers.

Tabor’s Social Justice Club planned to host a campus forum Nov. 16, after MWR’s print deadline, for administrators to hear feedback from students.

A prayer for justice

Tabor College preceded some sporting events in early November with a moment of silence and a statement recognizing brokenness and injustice in the world, followed by prayer:

“Tabor College recognizes that injustice and hate in the form of racism, oppression and brokenness is a part of the reality for various people in our country and around the world. We invite all of us to join in a moment of silent unity for bringing justice, healing and wholeness anywhere it is needed. Please join in a moment of silence.

“Father in Heaven, we are blessed to come together this evening to enjoy competition and the great game of [applicable sport]. We first would ask that you take your love into any of the dark places in our country and around the world.”

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